Last week the New York Times, in it's Your Money column, did an evaluation of non-lawyer legal form sites that offer wills on-line, including products offered by Legal Zoom and Nolo. The author concluded that a lawyer can still be very helpful:
"... a computer program can’t ask you about your family relationships or tease out complex dynamics, like your daughter’s rocky marriage."
"Still, the biggest risk might be summed up by Phillip J. Kenny, a lawyer in McLean, Va., who said that one client came back to him after looking at a software package and said, “I don’t know what I don’t know.”
A subsequent blog post in the New York Times Bucks Blog that is linked to the column, discussed emerging online services that provide a lawyer review, or lawyer preparation of a will for a fixed price. Services that were mentioned include: RocketLawyer, Nolo's Lawyer Directory, and DirectLaw's virtual law firm service for solos and small law firms. The MyLawyer.com web site, that wasn't mentioned, is another example of a web site that links consumers to law firms that offer "unbundled legal services" over the Internet.
The lawyer review and lawyer assisted document preparation services are an example of how lawyers are learning from non-lawyer web sites to "productize" their services in a way that makes their legal services affordable to a wider range of consumers increasing their market penetration.
If more solos and small law firms followed the lead of the law firms delivering affordable online legal services, eventually the market share erosion from non-lawyer providers would diminish. More importantly, the legal profession could retain and consolidate its dominant position as the primary provider of legal services to the broad middle class. That's a big "if". At this point solos and small law firms continue to lose market share to new market entrants, despite the legal profession's UPL rules.