Meet the Solo Who Wrote the Book on Virtual Law Practice
Posted Sep 9, 2010 6:20 AM CDT
By Stephanie Francis Ward
Stephanie Kimbro was pregnant with her first child and thought a sole practice doing estate planning from home would be a good way to combine a job and parenting. What she didn’t realize was that in five years, she’d earn more working from home than she did as a law firm associate.Kimbro, 34 and owner of Kimbro Legal Services, estimates her operating costs are about $140 a month: $100 for her software service and $40 for a wireless card.
“I just wanted to be able to stay home with my daughter, and I thought this would be a way to do that until we figured out how I could stay home,” says the Wilmington, N.C., lawyer, noting the financial realities many young families face when weighing how much money they need to live on versus child care arrangements they desire.
Kimbro’s husband, Benjamin Norman, is a computer programmer, and while she was pregnant the two developed a website to serve clients online. What they came up with was a secure, Web-based interface that has importing and exporting capacities.
She opened her practice in January 2006, the same month her daughter, Madeleine, was born.
“The first month she’d be in my lap while I’m working on the computer. As she got more mobile, it got more tricky,” says Kimbro, who now also has a son, William, not yet 2. “I’d start working at 1 a.m., or getting up earlier than she was.”
Many of Kimbro’s clients are also mothers with young children, and she discovered they were often online when she was.
The first year was somewhat rough, Kimbro says, in terms of getting clients. She found that traditional advertising didn’t accomplish much.
She shifted marketing efforts to numerous e-mail discussion lists and social networking sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, allowing her to interact with other lawyers without sharing an office with them. “I’m way more social now than I was working in a small firm,” she says.
She also developed a presence on local parenting message boards. Her signature line includes “mom of William and Madeleine, owner of Kimbro Legal Services.”
“If someone did have a legal issue, if it was something I could do—I would be called on,” says Kimbro, who works on North Carolina matters only.
She started to see a steady stream of business after one year. Today, much of her work comes from client referrals. The bulk is estate planning, which she unbundles. For wills, she charges $150 per person. For a couple purchasing an estate planning package, the price is $500. The packages include standardized forms and memos, Kimbro says, but her work is personalized through discussions with clients, usually online.
Besides trust and estate work, Kimbro handles small-business matters like incorporation and contract drafting.
“I provide each prospective online client with a price quote for fixed-fee services based on the complexity of their matter,” she says. “I sometimes will do a fixed fee for a portion of the work and then move to billable-hour rates if it exceeds the scope of that initial project.”
Prospective online clients click to accept Kimbro’s price quote along with a click-wrap agreement that defines the scope of representation.
“She’s got a really interesting vision for how law practice can change, and how you can offer it in ways that haven’t been offered before,” says Eric Mazzone, director of the North Carolina Bar Association’s Center for Practice Management. “She has a unique way of looking at a situation and seeing things that others don’t.”
But they’re starting to. In October 2009, the software system she and her husband designed, Virtual Law Office Technology, was sold to Total Attorneys for an undisclosed amount. Total Attorneys hired Norman as a senior developer and bestowed the title of “evangelist” on Kimbro, who in addition to her law practice does consulting work for Total Attorneys. The Chicago-based company is a technology service provider that focuses on small-firm and solo law practice management.
“I’m educating the profession about ways to encourage innovation in delivering online legal services, not sell a company or product,” Kimbro says. “Even when they have me do a webinar for Total Attorneys, I do not specifically plug their products and include many different providers and options for the listeners.”
Kimbro adds, “In 10 years I think every firm is going to have to have some form of a virtual component. Consumers are not going to go to traditional law firms, and if solos want to stay competitive, they have to have some form of virtual offerings if the clients request it.”
ABANet.org (Book): "Virtual Law Practice: How to Deliver Legal Services Online"
Legal Rebels: "Stephanie Kimbro: Leverage the Internet To Serve Your Clients and Grow Your Practice"