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Virtually unheard of

Before the proverbial ink had dried on the online job posting of a newly created virtual law firm, more than 125 Massachusetts lawyers had submitted their resumes.

“Our ad only ran in Boston for one day, and we ended up hiring 15 people who are all admitted to practice here,” says Inder-Jeet Gujral, co-founder of Wenham Law Group. “Finding qualified layers was not the issue — especially at a pretty good rate, if you compare what we pay to temp agencies.”

The unusual June 26 Craigslist posting sought the help of experienced lawyers interested in working from home or remotely, on a contract basis.

The work pays between $75 and $100 an hour, according to Gujral.

Despite its early hiring success, Wenham Law Group probably won’t be confused with the likes of Ropes & Gray and Goodwin Procter. Wenham charges all its clients $150 an hour, regardless of the complexity of the legal work being done.

“There is no negotiation,” Gujral says. “The idea is to offer a completely flat fee to companies so that they can do some budgeting and have some certainty.”

Gujral, who lives in Wenham, Mass., says a lot of the work he expects the firm to handle will be in the non-compete, contract and employment context. To date, it has four clients, none of whom Gujral is willing to identify.

Aside from the virtual element, what makes the arrangement unusual is that Gujral is not a lawyer. In fact, the Stanford University MBA is the CEO of an online filing-cabinet provider.

But rest assured, Gujral says. Co-founder Andrew S. Updegrove is a well-known and well-respected member of the bar.

Updegrove could not be reached for comment prior to deadline, but Gujral says the Boston lawyer is acting as an advisor. Meanwhile, Gujral’s wife and fellow Wenham Law Group founder, Elizabeth Gujral, is the firm’s only partner at the moment.

“Elizabethis the leader of the firm,” he says. “I’m more of the cook and bottle-washer guy.”

Gujral says he’s well aware that Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit non-lawyers from having partnership duties at a law firm. Despite his use of the term “founder,” he says he has no legal duties at Wenham.

“We don’t say we are partners; we are simply founders,” he says. “There is an operating part, which I am involved in, and then there is the legal part, which is a completely free-standing law firm.”

Bar Counsel Constance V. Vecchione says whether such an arrangement passes ethical muster would turn on the precise financial arrangements entered into by the parties.

“Massachusetts Rule of Professional Conduct 5.4 states that, in general, a lawyer shall not share legal fees with a non-lawyer,” she says. “The rule also prohibits a lawyer from forming a partnership with a non-lawyer.”

 

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