A Recurring Revenue Business Model

LegalZoom® which started as a legal document web site based on individual transactions is gradually shifting towards a new business model based upon recurring revenue. Under the guidance of Premira, a private equity fund and now the majority shareholder of LegalZoom®, the company has launched a legal plan that adds legal advice to the purchase of its documents. Premira, is a specialist in helping companies create recurring revenue streams, it’s most recent success being Ancestry.com.

The Legal Service Plan business model is the future for LegalZoom®. A network of lawyers in every state has been created with capability of providing legal advice both for personal documents and business documents.

See for example the services now offered in the estate planning area:
http://www.legalzoom.com/personal/estate-planning/last-will-and-testament-pricing.htm

or in the small business area:
http://www.legalzoom.com/business/business-formation/llc-pricing.html

Here is the message by LegalZoom® about what you get when you purchase a Wills package bundled with legal advice:

“Membership includes: 30-minute phone consults with independent attorneys on an unlimited number of new legal matters. Attorney review of any completed LegalZoom documents. FREE revisions for as long as you maintain your membership. 10% OFF future LegalZoom purchases.

The price for the LegalZoom® estate planning package is $149.00, which includes a Will, Power of Attorney, and Living Will. This is a good value proposition for the consumer, if the client’s estate requires no complicated tax planning or has special circumstances that need to be incorporated into the documents. For a large percentage of U.S. consumers this set of estate planning documents will satisfy their needs.

I hear from lawyers occasionally that they make a business of cleaning up documents purchased from LegalZoom®. I don’t believe it. I think it is just defensive talk by lawyers who convince themselves that they offer a superior service, but at a much higher fee. Maybe this comment refers to documents purchased without legal advice and review, but I doubt it will apply to the enhanced service that now includes legal advice. Solos and small law firms will find it hard to compete against this value proposition unless they learn some lessons from LegalZoom®.

Lawyers can Learn from LegalZoom®

Solos and small law firms can learn from LegalZoom®. Ignoring Legalzoom’s approach to the marketplace will cause a continued decline in solo and small law firm income. [See Clio’s Legal Trends Report for support of this assertion ].

[See my old post at: What Lawyers Can Learn from LegalZoom®   I stand by these recommendations first made in 2010, but would add that adding the benefit of in-person personalization is a feature that LegalZoom can’t offer.]

Is the LegalZoom® Business Model Ethically Compliant?

A final note on the ethical compliance of the LegalZoom’s offering. It is well-established that a profit-making company can create and administer a network of attorneys, commonly known as a Legal Access Plan. See for example: CLC Legal Access Plans  and Legal Access Plans . These plans traditional provides legal advice services as part of Employer Assistance Programs and sometimes offer their plans directly to the public.

What is different about LegalZoom’s® advertising is the statement you can purchase “Best Value + Attorney Advice” which implies that you can purchase your legal documents with legal advice. This is an ethical violation as organizations that are not law firms, may never advertise legal services as part of the services they offer. Accounting firms can’t advertise legal services. Financial advisory firms can’t  bundle  legal services with their services. Banks can’t advertise legal services, or bundle legal services with their other services. So, on what theory can LegalZoom® advertise legal services in a bundle with their other legal services?

A network of law firms is prohibited from making claims that a law firm cannot make directly. Bar disciplinary bodies can’t censure LegalZoom® for this infraction, but they can go after the lawyers participating in their plan who expose themselves to disciplinary action by participating in a “branded” network not ethically compliant.

If I am wrong about this, LegalZoom® is invited to submit a comment explaining their theory of how this messaging complies with ethical rules that deal with advertising and representations about legal services.

Note: LegalZoom® is a trademark of LegalZoom, Inc.