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'Virtual' office reflects broader changes in practice of law

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Editor's note: This story has been corrected.

Bricks and mortar aren’t what the practice of law is about for attorney Brian Powers. So, he does without them in the traditional sense.

Instead, the 35-year-old attorney who’s been practicing for five years operates a “virtual” office mostly based on technology, meaning he takes his practice wherever needed to serve his clients. The concept is one that’s found scattered throughout the country, but appears to be unique in Indiana at this point.

But the idea may grow as technology evolves and the practice of law continues changing, particularly as the economic climate finds more new and veteran attorneys out of work or stepping away from traditional law firms. Though technology-based practices aren’t mainstream at this point, what Powers is doing illustrates more generally how law practice business development has changed through the years.

“I’ve always had a little different philosophy on how you can practice law and use technology, beyond what most lawyers and firms use for doc management and e-mail or calendaring,” he said. “It’s the centerpiece of my practice, and I really enjoy practicing law this way.”

focus Pence Indianapolis attorney Linda Pence stands amid the renovations of her new law firm, the second she’s founded in 25 years. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Powers started a career in environmental engineering at an Indianapolis firm after graduating from Syracuse University. But his interest drifted away from engineering, so instead he embraced the online boom and started a dot.com out of his Ohio State University apartment. He eventually returned to Indiana and started a different Internet business in downtown Indianapolis, on the fourth floor of the building shared with Morton’s Steakhouse. But that lasted only about three years, and he ultimately went to law school.

In early summer 2009, he launched the virtual Law Office of Brian V. Powers, Innovative Counsel. His staple is his online practice at www.bvplegal.com.

He’s set his practice up to be portable, capable of practicing anywhere in order to make the process more efficient and cut his costs. Though he spends about 60 percent of his time working from home, Powers said the virtual nature of his firm means that he doesn’t need to be there and could pick up and go anywhere at any moment.

“I don’t need traditional office space because that’s not what practicing law is about,” he said. “They’re paying for my legal advice and help, and they don’t care about a nice office with a receptionist. They just want someone who gets the legal work done well for them.”

Purely a transactional lawyer, Powers said he rarely ever steps into a courtroom.

He represents business clients on matters ranging from corporate transactional matters, entrepreneurial legal services, startup law, mergers and acquisitions, and Internet law/software licensing. He also advises his established clients on issues such as real estate matters, regulatory compliance, business advisory services, strategic planning, business restructuring, and general corporate counseling. Most of his clients are businesses based in Indiana or operating inside the state, as well as clients located in Singapore and on both coasts, Powers said.

If there is a home base, it would be his home in Carmel. That’s where his dining room serves as the conference room and he has a desk. But mostly he’s on the move, with his laptop, iPhone, and iPad.

That means no copiers and as little paper as possible. Though he gets large amounts of paper every day, Powers scans and shreds it as quickly as possible, unless there’s a legal reason to keep a paper copy. The web-based technology he uses is Clio, which allows him to input all of those documents into a system that compiles and processes the data. Receipts are scanned and the software extracts the information and loads it into Quickbooks, and then into an online accounting program.

On the accounting side alone, Powers said he spends only about 30 minutes on it during the course of a month. The same goes for marketing, which mostly revolves around his website and two blogs. Just like him, clients can log in to access their account information as needed, viewing or paying bills if they want.

He’s found all kinds of technology uses to help him in his practice, such as a Smart Pen that digitally records everything he writes and converts it into an online-searchable form. That also has a recording capability, allowing him to even add voice notes to his written notes for later review.

focus Attorney Brian Powers has opened a virtual law office largely based on technology that means he doesn’t need a physical office space. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Admittedly, he said most of his clients are under the age of 45 and are the more “tech savvy” ones who are more accepting of this virtual practice concept. Some communicate with him by social media or texting, though Powers admits that’s not the preferred method of attorney-client communication and he wants to have as much phone or in-person contact as possible.

“The way my practice is setup has opened some doors for me, because I just don’t get perceived as having a brick and mortar office building for my services,” he said. “But while that’s opened some doors, I’m sure some have probably been turned off by this and never picked up the phone. But that’s fine, because I’m happy and my clients are happy as far as I know.”

Powers realizes that he wouldn’t have been able to design his practice this way five years ago, and definitely not 10 or 25 years ago. The profession changes so rapidly that it’s tough to know what the future might bring, but he’s interested in seeing the changes now just as he finds it fascinating how longtime attorneys have evolved through the years.

One of those is veteran litigator Linda Pence, who’s been practicing for 36 years, been in public service and Big Law, and has observed those business development changes firsthand.

Pence opened a firm in 1986 and watch it eventually become one of the fastest growing in the state before it dissolved almost a decade ago, and most recently she’s teamed with a longtime colleague to launch a new small firm in Indianapolis.

Earlier this year, she and partner David Hensel launched Pence & Hensel. They are temporarily situated in a former insurance company building but expect to move into a new office by early November, she said.

When Pence opened her first firm in 1986 after years of working at the U.S. Department of Justice, she recalls how little technology was a part of that process.

At that time, she received a $30,000 bank loan for startup costs, such as buying office equipment and supplies. She recalls having a five-page list of items an attorney should consider when opening a traditional law office. Back then, computers didn’t resemble what exists today and Web pages just didn’t exist.

Her firm merged in 1995 with what became Johnson Smith, and that lasted until it dissolved in 2002.

“I learned that in a big firm you have to deal with more partners and more people, and decisions take a little longer and cut into how the firm runs overall. By its very nature, a big firm needs more rigid policies and procedures and that can slow you down,” she said.

Still, what Pence said hasn’t changed about the practice of law – a point that highlights how Powers’ practice is thriving – is the relationships with clients.

“That relationship with a client is still the same, even if everything else is different,” she said. “The basics of a lawyer sitting down, having basic facts, and offering legal advice are the same. As a lawyer, you still need a brain and the ability to ferret out facts, and to advise people on what you understand to be the law. We haven’t seen the end of that hallmark.”•

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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