The Future 'Middle Class' of the Legal Profession – Unbundled Legal Services

This post originally was a guest post on faculty member Chris Hill’s popular blog Musings. I thought it relevant to Build A Solo Practice @SPU’s audience and am republishing here.

There is a lot of discussion about unbundled legal services, the breaking down of a given legal process into ‘parts’. Each part can be delegated to a lawyer to handle and paid for by the client or the client can handle themselves based upon their desire and/or budget. A lawyer’s ability to offer unbundled services can change from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and by practice area.
Many lawyers see the unbundling process as minimizing the value of their services and taking their profits.  Still others see it as hampering a lawyer’s ability to do a thorough job if they are only offering counsel for one or two segments of the process.

But this is where worlds collide.

“Most private practice lawyers today provide customized solutions for individual clients at high hourly rates, which is expensive for the client and unscalable for the lawyer. The democratization of information and forms on the internet, client demands for more cost effective solutions and the increasing encroachment on the profession by non-lawyers using new technologies will result in significant changes to the legal profession.”

In the beginning there were only lawyers and those who chose to go pro se.  Lawyers felt they had it locked up as the processes became more difficult and onerous.  And there was no middle ground.  Over the past decade or two, we have looked derisively at operations such as Legal Zoom and those who would purport to take business from us by helping those ‘en masse’ with delivering forms, doing the minimum processes clients wanted done, instead of hiring the local lawyer to do it.  The person inclined to go to a company like Legal Zoom or any forms company assisted by non-legal staff is known as the ‘latent legal market’ – a type of Do It Yourself -er who understands they need legal assistance but wants to do it on their own, for the most part. And they accept the ‘good enough’ solution at the price they can pay instead of the ‘best possible outcome’ at a price they believe they can’t afford.

This latent legal market has always existed.  They just were not thought about much except by those companies like Legal Zoom.  Now that there is more competition for clients, technological intrusion into knowledge that was once protected behind castle walls, and an economy which is making clients think twice about legal services they perceive as optional, lawyers have to look at becoming, in effect, mini-Legal Zooms.  They have to start considering unbundling services (if practicable for their practice area) as an option to penetrate the latent legal market.  At the very least, they should consider offering unbundled ‘a la carte’ legal services (as permitted by their jurisdiction) in order to compensate for potentially reduced traditional compensated work.

There is an added benefit to considering unbundled legal services.  There are many ‘new’ Do-It-Yourself -ers born out of troubled times who will feel more secure exploring doing work themselves while still working with a local lawyer holding their hand.  If they believe they are over their heads or want to change their minds, you are right there to catch them and continue with paid work. The clients become clients for life.  They spread the word to their DIY friends.  You’ve now gained traction in a market you once closed the door to or never realistically considered before.

Food for thought…and hopefully consumption.

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