VDI: It’s Not a Disease

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– By Chad Burton & Martin Ditkoff

Burton is a lawyer and the Principal of Burton Law.

Ditkoff is a solo attorney in  Brookfield, Wisconsin. He is the former General Counsel of Morris Material Handling (P&H Cranes).

This post is adapted from the written materials for “VDI: It’s Not a Disease” – one of the CLE sessions to be presented Thursday, March 27, during TECHSHOW 2014.


Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). For many, this may be an unfamiliar term. And, like many concepts in the legal technology space, the term is constantly evolving.

What is it? At its core, VDI is the ability to access the information on your computer remotely. Think of this from the standpoint of remote login to your desktop if you are on the road or in another office and log in from another computer. That is really how this all started. Often, lawyers would log into their work computer from their home computer to gain access to documents and other information.

With the prevalence of cloud-based platforms, the definition of VDI becomes a moving target — in a good way. More options exist that are cost effective for lawyers to access their information from anywhere they have an internet connection.

Really, we are talking about mobility. How easy is it to access your firm’s data on the move? Mobility has become such a hot topic over the past couple of years. The smartphone and tablet world has exploded into all industries, including the legal profession. This provides ways for lawyers to not only consume information remotely, but also to create. The type of hardware used has become less and less relevant over time.

It is one thing to identify the existence of opportunities to create VDIs, but it is another to actually put a concept into action. It is the latter that this post focuses upon. We provide two case studies on a solo firm and a multi-lawyer, virtual firm. Both models focus on mobility, as working on the go is a core need for success and optimal client service.

VIRTUAL DESKTOP INFRASTRUCTURE ONE ATTORNEY’S JOURNEY AND LESSONS LEARNED

By: Martin Ditkof

I am a road warrior. Some of my trips are related to work while others are more personal in nature, but I very much enjoy road trips and traveling. As I work from a home based office with no day to day support staff, correctly using a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (“VDI”) is important both for marketing and day to day activities.

I opened a home based solo legal practice in February 2001 after taking my old employer into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Delaware during May 2000. I started out with re-marshalled home furniture such as a desk and filing cabinets and was servicing one client; my old employer. I also had developed a business model and various marketing plans emphasizing my General Counsel in-house experience. My goal was to have a dozen clients who needed continual legal services much of which could be performed on a monthly set fee basis. I did not market myself as a low cost alternative; rather, I marketed myself as having a unique skill set and organizational structure which, as a side effect, would reduce my clients’ legal costs.

The business model was successful and my client base grew to between 10 and 12 clients at any one time, 50% of which were paying on monthly set fees. I established relationships with a number of other attorneys to whom I could refer client projects under my supervision and, in turn, was able to have a broad network of associates without the need for any overhead.

Over the last several years, my practice has significantly changed because of a client’s request dealing with toxic tort legacy lawsuits. Currently, my practice involves about 90% toxic tort supervision and management with 10% remaining General Counsel activities on a monthly set fee basis.

I began tinkering with VDI in 2008 and thereafter trying to keep up with the dizzying pace of change.

Summary and Recommendations

  • VDI is really cool and worthwhile, but you need to be prepared for frustrations.
  • The options are almost limitless and, as such, need to be tailored to your practice.
  • VDI can be a great equalizer for solo practitioners in competition with mid-sized or larger law firms.
  • Do not go it alone on implementing VDI. Get help from someone experienced in both the technology and how that technology is used in your type of practice.

TTHE BURTON LAW MODEL

By: Chad Burton

Burton Law operates under a “virtual law firm” model. This means that the firm provides full service and online delivery of legal services, but does so in a distributed or mobile manner. The firm uses centralized office space for meetings, but otherwise the lawyers work remotely. Traditional staff has been replaced with virtual assistants, and cloud-based technology plays a core role in how the lawyers collaborate for complex,

The VDI for Burton Law effectively eliminates the need for a traditional desktop. In other words, while the platforms do have local apps that reside on the desktop (whether on a PC or Mac), the data is being housed on the web and the platforms used allow for manipulation of that data without downloading information to a local hard drive. This changes the dynamic of how information is created and shared within the

In creating the Burton VDI, it was important to include platforms that provide a core infrastructure as the firm grows over time. Adding new team members becomes relatively easy because it amounts to adding an additional license to the various platforms. The platforms also “talk” to each other.

In a comprehensive VDI structure, integration is important. This reduces duplicating efforts for entering client data (among other information) into the systems. One of the many benefits of cloud-based platforms is that they are open to integrations with others. In other words, there is not a bubble existing around the platform that requires the user to only play in their sandbox. These platforms recognize that they focus on what they do best, and then partner with other platforms that do the same.

Effectively, the Burton Law infrastructure allows the team members to see information — real time — regardless of the type of device they are using. There is not a need for a local desktop to download information to share it.

These concepts also spill into direct interaction with clients, co-counsel and opposing counsel. The platforms also allow for data to be shared externally. As with internal uses, those outside the Burton Law team can access the data without needing a local structure on their computer.

As any firm should be thinking about, the VDI infrastructure at Burton Law is focused around creating efficiencies for sophisticated legal work that helps drive down cost structures. This ultimately allows for cheaper rates to be passed along to the firm’s clients. This also provides for more flexible fee arrangements (now the difficulty of getting those right is a discussion for another day).

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