Are Virtual Portals for Brick and Mortar Firms the Future?
I think so. But, then again, I tend to see the world through a technology-infused lens. Even so, I think the writing is on the wall and virtual portals for brick and mortar law firms are going to become commonplace within the next 5 years.
I say this because of what I see occurring around me. Technology is moving at an unprecedented speed (a phenomenon that I examine more in depth in this series of articles). New technologies are being introduced and, then, in just a matter of years, are ubiquitous.
The iPad is the perfect example. The first iPad was released in the U.S. in April 2010 and now, according to Wikipedia, just 1.5 years later over 30 million have been sold. Even more eye opening is this statement from Apple’s Third Quarter Report for 2011: “Apple sold 9.25 million iPads during the quarter, a 183 percent unit increase over the year-ago quarter.”
More food for thought: Facebook’s social app platform was launched in July 2007, and, according to a 2011 University of Maryland Smith School of Business study, “has added at least 182,000 new jobs and contributed more than $12.19 billion in wages and benefits to the U.S. economy this year.” And, those numbers don’t take into account the economic impact of Apple’s or Droid’s apps.
Why are these statistics important? Because they are evidence of how quickly the world is changing, in large part due to the influence of Internet-based and mobile technology. Increasingly, people use the Internet and their mobile devices to obtain information and to communicate and stay connected, whether with family, friends or business colleagues. The Internet is the conduit through which people interact with the world and online platforms are the portal of choice.
People expect to be able to conduct business online and businesses that don’t offer potential clients this option will lose business to competitors that do. I know this from my own personal experience.
Last summer, I decided to refinance my mortgage when rates were at a record low. Initially my thought was to refinance with my personal bank, one of the larger national banks. I scheduled an appointment, gathered up all the necessary documentation and headed down the the bank. After a lengthy meeting with a mortgage rep, I was disappointed with the rate they offered since I had come across substantially lower rates during my online research. I advised the rep that I had another appointment that I needed to get to and that I had decided to research my options further before committing. She insisted on making copies of my documents “just in case” and then left me in a room for more than 20 minutes while she made copies. I became increasingly anxious and annoyed as time passed. She finally returned, assured me their rates were competitive and then sent me on my way, nearly 2 hours after I’d first arrived at the bank. I nearly missed my appointment.
Later that evening, I obtained an automated quote from a well-known online mortgage company. I then spoke with a representative, locked in a rate that was nearly .75% lower than my bank had offered me, scanned the necessary documentation using my iPhone, uploaded them via my laptop using their secure online portal and, just 1 hour after I’d first landed on their website, my refinance deal was well underway. The entire process was convenient, efficient and painless from that point on. I used the online portal to check the status of the process, review my documents and communicate with those handling my loan. And, in the event of a major issue, I picked up the phone and was easily able to reach my initial contact. I couldn’t have been happier with the experience.
The end result: a huge, clunky national bank lost my business, while a nimble, innovative online company gained it.
And, this online mortgage company isn’t alone. An increasing number of traditional businesses now allow customers to access their data using an online portal, including the banking industry, brokerage firms and the medical field.
The legal field will not–and cannot–be the only hold out. People have already begun to expect that online portals will be available, a trend that will only increase exponentially in the near future. This is because online portals provide clients with convenience, flexibility and a sense of control. Time consuming office visits for routine matters can be avoided and documents can be exchanged with the click of a button. Clients can send messages to their attorney via a secure online portal on their own time–whether it’s in the in the middle of the night or over their lunch hour–instead of having to call during regular office hours when both the client and attorney are busy.
Online portals are the future of business. In just a matter of years, clients will expect this option. Rather than resisting the inevitable, recognize that providing an online portal will allow lawyers to better serve their clients, resulting in a better experience for both the client and lawyer.