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Virtual conferencing draws law-firm interest


Webinars are often a popular way for attorneys to educate each other and clients on changes in the law.

But some law firms are implementing a relatively new technology that allows multiple parties to see each other and interact online in “real time” from the comfort of their offices.

Virtual panels, aka “vPanels,” are designed to give businesses the ability to conduct live conferences and training sessions with people around the world.

“It’s really like global television,” said Paul Trout, Chief Executive Officer for Chicago-based marketing firm Shift Worldwide.

Trout is working with Wisconsin’s Davis & Kuelthau SC to launch a vPanel discussion in the firm’s Labor and Employment Law practice group in the coming weeks.

Firm marketing director Michelle Friedman said the goal is to give attorneys and clients a more convenient and cost-effective experience.

She said the technology is attractive because unlike webinars, which are pre-planned presentations, vPanels will give firms the ability to quickly assemble a conference.

For example, if employment discrimination law changes, attorneys could instantly assemble to answer client questions, rather than wait to host a seminar at one of the firm offices or conduct a PowerPoint presentation online.

Davis & Kuelthau has six offices in Wisconsin, and Friedman said the ability to provide face-to-face “late-breaking news” to clients online will be an asset.

The discussions are structured so that attendees can use a webcam attached to their computer to ensure other guests and hosts can see them. In addition to that visual contact, vPanel attendees can communicate by either posting or verbally asking questions during the panel, as well as through a link-up with Twitter.

Production costs start at $1,250, depending on the event, said Trout, who has worked with several firms around the country setting up and testing vPanels.

“A lot of offices are doing this as [part of] a mentorship program,” he said. “Often, firms match people geographically, and that rarely works out.”

Trout recently set up a vPanel that matched eight different mentors and mentees and involved 16 different offices.

He said the panels are also useful for meeting with client teams in remote locations.

“I know general counsel who have worked with some lawyers for five years and if they walked by each other in the hallway, they’d never recognize each other,” Trout said.

Marketing tool

In addition to the practical uses, vPanels can be effective marketing tools for law firms.

Quarles & Brady attorney James D. Friedman is scheduled to present in an upcoming vPanel discussion on corporate governance. Though the event is not sponsored by the firm, his appearance is a way to network with current and potential clients.

“Professionally, that does give you some good exposure,” he said.

Law firm marketing consultant Larry Bodine said the technology could be a good tool to help create and maintain client relationships.

The face-to-face interaction keeps interaction personal, but also allows attorneys to “practice virtually,” noted Bodine.

“I can see it as a nice marketing tool in the sense that it might lead to business referrals,” he said.

Still, Bodine suggested that many attorneys may be slow to embrace vPanels.

“Lawyers are not known as do-it-yourselfers when it comes to technology,” he said.

Trout acknowledged that vPanels may not fit every firm or practice group, and advised doing a cost-benefit analysis.

He said one of the key elements that interested firms need to grasp in order to make the investment worthwhile is that vPanels are a collaborative effort.

“It’s not just all about saying ‘we’re lawyers and here’s our perspective on things,’” he said. “It’s a chance to listen” too.

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