By now most of you have read the news that Google Ventures invested $18.5 million into Rocket Lawyer. Back in 2008, we read that Rocket Lawyer had partnered with Lexis Nexis and their Lawyers.com service. Should we really be surprised at this next stage of evolution?
Many of us in the legal industry are trying to figure out what the impact of this development might be in the long and short term for the delivery of legal services. Those of us who make our livings delivering legal services to our clients online and who focus on unbundling services are naturally more than a little on edge thinking about what this might mean to our law practices (and the ability to continue paying off those law school loans).
I’m going to make an effort here to brainstorm both ways that this news might be beneficial and detrimental to the profession. It would be great to hear from Charley Moore, the founder of Rocket Lawyer, if he has any predictions or suggestions for how those of us engaging in virtual law practice should be taking this news.
– The public becomes more aware that there are alternatives to traditional, in-person legal services available to them. This is probably a benefit that no one can argue is a bad thing.
– The consumer may actually receive guidance from a licensed attorney, rather than just handed over documents without personal attorney review. I believe as it stands now the service gives the consumer the choice to go with the attorney or to just take the documents. Choice is not a bad thing as long as it comes with the education necessary to make an informed decision.
– Increased access to justice for a segment of the population seeking legal services in certain practice areas.
– A way for attorneys to potentially increase their incoming prospective clients by using a form of marketing where the company is pooling its resources to market directly to the consumer.
-Increased awareness of and client demand for fixed fees and unbundled services (when it’s appropriate for their legal needs).
– Attorneys with virtual law offices must compete even more with the huge marketing budget and power of Google’s control over its SEO algorithms. Solos and small firms will be hit especially hard.
– As a result of that, it may become necessary to join a branded network, such as Rocket Lawyer, in order to get the number of leads necessary to sustain a virtual practice.
– It may require payment to be part of this network and the processes of receiving clients from that network may not be clear. Issues such as compliance with the duty to prospective clients, safeguarding client property and protecting client confidences must be entrusted to the branded network.
– There may not be a clear establishment of the attorney/client relationship in the process of connecting the attorney to the client.
– The public “googling” online legal services will see these online legal services companies coming to the top of the rankings pages, not because of the reputation or experience or appropriateness of the lawyers available by following that link, but because the company has the dollars to bump it to the top. (Although is that really any different than a firm paying more for the back page of the phone book? Some form of this issue is just a part of good old competition.)
– Ratings, reviews and profiles on these sites may or may not be in compliance with different state rules regarding online attorney advertising. Attorney might have limited control in the ratings and review process.
Those are just some of my initial thoughts. I’ve had a free profile on Rocket Lawyer for over a year and even written a guest post article for their blog about virtual law practice. I have not seen any leads generated from the service for my virtual practice, but maybe you have to pay the $89 a month to get the real lead generation. It would be interesting to know if there is a way to send those leads to your virtual law office website for registration or whether attorneys using the service for leads must then use the company’s “web law office” product to handle any online work with the client. How will their relationship with Lexis Nexis and Lawyers.com factor into this equation?
The news this week raises so many unanswerable questions, but one thing is certain, this development will hasten along the trend of unbundling legal services, offering fixed fees and using technology to deliver legal services to the public online. How it promises to do these things is in the complete control of those who hold the purse strings.