The legal profession will not be immune from the rise of the uberized economy. Consumers want to purchase only the legal services they need. This means that the trend towards offering “unbundled” or “limited legal services” will continue to accelerate as the most economical way for consumers to purchase legal service is by the “task”, rather than the hour.
Think of “task rabbit for legal services” – legal services at the click of a button on your smartphone.
The new virtual marketplaces connecting lawyers with clients for the purchase of specific legal tasks will also accelerate this trend. These legal marketplaces are a response to the inefficiency of bar-sponsored legal referral programs (the subject of another blog post to come), and the desire of consumers to have a more transparent way of selecting attorneys to solve their legal problems. The last few years has seen the ascendency of these legal marketplace platforms.
To name just a few of these new legal marketplaces, look at:
- Avvo – “Get legal advice from a top-reviewed lawyer on the phone – $39.00 for 15 minutes.”
- Bridge.US – “Top attorneys and easy-to-use software that make immigration delightfully simple”
- DirectLawConnect – “FInd a fixed fee online lawyer in your state now.”
- Hire an Esquire – “Legal staffing redefined online.”
- LawDingo – “You won’t believe how simple and affordable it is to get a lawyer;s help.” “$50 for a telephone consultation. Other projects for a fixed fee.”
- LawGives – “Get free quotes and consultations from trusted lawyers in 100+ cities”
- LegalHero – “Law Done Better. Experienced attorneys for your business at clear, upfront prices. ” “No hourly rates. No retainers.”
- LawKick – “Find the right lawyer at the right price”
- LawNearMe – “Law Near Me offers an attorney referral service to help you find the legal representation you need in a variety of areas.” “ZocDoc for lawyers”
- LawZam -“Free legal consultations by video-conference.”
- LegalZoom – “Find an attorney you can trust for your family for $9.99 a month”
- PrioriLaw – “lawyers hand-picked for your business.”
- RocketLawyer – “Legal Made Simple”
- SmartUpLegal – “Quality Legal For Startups and Business.”
- UpCounsel – “Hire a great attorney for your business. Fixed fee projects”
Some seek to link consumers with lawyers who charge their regular hourly rates, but the marketplaces that will scale are those that offer limited legal services for a fixed fee, ideally powered by technology to keep legal fees low. These new vertical marketplaces will serve what Richard Susskind has called, “the latent market for legal services.”, but in the fullness of time, the “limited legal services” approach will move up the value curve serving small business and eventually larger business entities and more affluent clients.
Not all will survive as many cannot generate the traffic to justify the fees charged to lawyers or consumers to participate in a particular platform. Survivors will be those platforms that can generate consumer traffic and which can scale their offerings. A likely winner could be AVVO as it leverages its huge consumer traffic and large lawyer data base into delivering legal services for a fixed fee.
Some larger law firms will adopt this independent contractor labor model using contracted labor to perform tasks for their clients. This is already happening in the United Kingdom. See: Lawyers on Demand; RiverviewLaw; and Peerpoint from Allen & Overy
The services that will scale the most will be smart legal software applications that can do a task for the fraction of the fee that a lawyer can charge for the same work.
As the idea of offering limited legal services goes mainstream, powered by these new marketplaces, consumers will benefit through more affordable, accessible, fast, and transparent legal services.
The legal profession, particularly solos and small law firm practitioners, will not benefit as much as the consumers they serve. Here are some of the negative consequences:
- A downward pressure on legal fees;
- More competition for solos and small law firm practitioners;
- Lawyers will have less or no social structure to support collaboration and cross-communication with peers;
- Newly admitted lawyers will lack the training and professional development structure for them to really learn how to practice law. (as law schools don’t really train lawyers to practice law).
- Less organizationally sponsored fringe benefits for lawyers.
- Loss of control of a client base, as clients are attracted and owned by the new legal marketplaces;
- Reduction in the size of the legal profession as it becomes harder to make a living as a lawyer, with a consequent reduction in the number of law schools – particularly those that turn out lawyers for solo and small practice but continue to teach the a purely doctrinal approach to law and law practice.
Recent litigation in California where California judges have rule that the issue of whether drivers for Uber and Lyft are independent contractors or employees will have to be decided by a jury suggest that the new rules the apply to the new ‘sharing economy” are not so clear. It will be interesting to see at some point in the future whether a group of lawyers -so-called independent contractors- might sue their platform provider or an AxiomLaw, on the theory that that the platform that they are using exercises so much control that they are really employees and entitled to the benefits of being an employee. See generally: 1099 vs. W-2 Employee Classification Infographic from Hire An Esquire.
Surely, the legal services industry is continuing to evolve driven by Internet-based innovations.