You've heard of Google Hangouts, right? It started as Google's group video-conferencing platform, and eventually merged with the company's other messaging apps to become an all-in-one messaging platform that provides free text, photo, or video-based chat with individuals or groups.
Think Skype, but with a lot more features.
Now, Google's reportedly considering expanding the idea into paid Hangout sessions, called Helpouts, reports TechCrunch. The "secret" unreleased product, which is reportedly in testing, allows professionals, tutors, and others to charge people for their time on the camera. To us, that immediately screams: Virtual Law Office!
A VLO is a law practice sans physical space. Services are all delivered online and client communication happens through webcams, email, and through the phone. VLOs have the potential to expand your geographical reach. For example, a VLO would allow you to provide services to folks in Needles, California (a city which you might ordinarily avoid -- for obvious reasons) while living in San Francisco.
Other possible ideas for a Google Helpout include: videoconferencing with multiple clients in a mediation setting or bringing in a translator for non-English speaking clients.
The tools necessary to run a VLO already exist. If both you, and your client, have a video-chatting application, such as Hangouts, Skype, or Facetime, you can currently run a VLO, assuming you have a means of payment collection and your client is able to handle video-chatting. Or you could go with one of the many paid solutions that already exist.
This, however, has the potential to make things a lot easier. Google's public offerings are typically well-polished and require little geek-savvy to use. (We'd imagine that would be doubly true for a paid service.) There is built-in payment processing through Google Wallet. Plus, if Google gives you a promotional bump through its service (likely, especially if they charge), that could mean more clients as well.
Then again, most present-day solutions are free, while Google's yet-to-be-released Helpouts seems likely to cost money. If they require a percentage of the fee, you'll have to contend with fee-splitting ethics rules, as well as your state's rules on VLOs and possibly cloud computing as well.
The value proposition is there, especially if Helpouts expands your client base. If you're a tech-savvy attorney and open to the concept of a VLO, the platform is definitely something to keep an eye on.
- Microsoft Close to Catching Up to Google With Skype+Outlook Marriage (FindLaw's Technologist Blog)
- New Google+ Features Can Pay Off for Lawyers (FindLaw's Technologist Blog)
- Attorneys May Just Dump Skype for Google Hangouts (FindLaw's Technologist Blog)