Two new options for consumer legal services entered the market in the past week. They are different in nature, but both provide alternatives for legal assistance and guidance. Both include different levels of legal guidance from licensed lawyers and some elements of self-help and unbundling of legal services. My stance on that has been that the value of a lawyer is great where the consumer can afford it, but some unbundled help even without a lawyer is better than leaving a consumer to flounder about on their own.
First up, Avvo launched Avvo Advisor. Consumers can go online and connect to the service from an iOS app or their web browser and demand legal advice from a lawyer. The fixed fee is $39 for 15 minutes. Lawyers can join the network to provide services through Avvo, much like other branded networks set up lawyer networks for direct connections to consumers. There is a money back guarantee on the service. The delivery design looks quite simple. The consumer selects their practice area, provides credit card information, and then get to speak with the lawyer. Lawyers providing services through the network are rated with stars and comments to help consumers know what they are purchasing in terms of advice. The lawyer gets a text to let them know that there is an interested consumer in their practice area and jurisdiction. See the ABA Journal article or Bob Ambrogi’s Law Sites blog for more details.
If I’m understanding it correctly, the first lawyer who responds to the text to claim that consumer is the one who gets to work with them on the phone call. That has traditionally been an issue for companies connecting consumers with practicing lawyers – the lawyers are often sluggish to respond, even when they are paying for leads. Having counseled several legal tech startups and companies that provide services similar to this, I have heard a lot of common themes at that point but this is a common one. Lawyers paying for leads but not knowing how to nurture or close on a lead. However, sending texts to prompt the lawyers to move on it and making it competitive in a way by having the first lawyer to respond get the work, that just might work! With this service, when the lawyer provides the 15 minute call, the money from the consumer is transferred to the bank account the lawyer provided to the company. Not a bad way for a lawyers to pick up a little extra work on the side. Unbundling scores again!
Does the consumer get the selection of the lawyer from a pool? It reminds me of the online tech support from a company like Microsoft where you can select from two or three live support technicians based on their ratings and experience. At the bottom of the site, the consumer is reminded the Avvo Q&A free service that has been around for a long time and that they can also use the Avvo network to hire a lawyer which feeds into the company’s lead generation service for their lawyer network. This new service falls in the middle as a new level of legal service alternative. So far it looks like it’s only available in 15 states as it builds out across the country. I also wonder about the establishment of the attorney/client relationship and how the disclaimers and limited scope engagement agreement equivalent are handled from the point that the lawyer calls the consumers to start engaging.
Overall, I’m glad Avvo is putting themselves out there to experiment with this. I think it could be a good alternative option for consumers to ask questions and get basic legal guidance at an affordable cost. If you’ve read some of the fascinating and often ridiculous legal questions that get asked in their public Q&A forums, you might hope that the folks who take that extra step to provide their credit card information will be asking questions by phone that are more focused in nature. Lawyers joining this service will also hope of course to convert those phone calls for $39 into the next level of connection through Avvo – retaining them as full clients.
Next up, LegalZoom has partnered with Sam’s Club to provide discounts on their online legal services packages. The press release provides a couple of examples of the special packages and discounts. The estate planning package for example includes all of the relevant legal documents but also comes with the guidance of a licensed lawyer for a specific amount of review work and then that lawyer can be retained further at a discounted rate. Looks like Walmart Law is finally here! See the ABA Journal article for more details.
Having written a book on the Consumer Law Revolution, what do I think of these updates? I think they are awesome. I also think they raise a lot of questions about the lawyers who are working with these companies to connect with consumer. While it’s great to encourage these options because they increase access to the public for legal assistance by providing a variety of alternative methods (online, phone, in-person, with or without a lawyer’s guidance, etc.) to the traditional legal service delivery model, I think we also need to be watching the needs and practices of the lawyers that are collaborating with these companies. There is going to be a learning curve here as those lawyers make sure they are unbundling services ethically (for example, knowing what cases are appropriate to unbundle and when it requires full service and making that honest call in the best interests of the client, not their wallet). It will be interesting to watch it develop and no doubt some tweaks will need to be made along the line to ensure that consumers are protected at the same time they are provided with alternatives to access legal services.