You don’t have to be reminded that the legal world has become very competitive. You face it every day. I have been preaching to lawyers for years about the need to master the technology that can make their practices more efficient, cost effective and competitive. There are plenty of other voices preaching the same sermon. For example, in a 2014 post for Above the Law, Jeff Bennion explained how keeping abreast of technology trends breeds more success for a solo than making good grades in law school.
By now you know that LegalZoom, RocketLawyer and a host of other online innovators use technology to provide low cost legal documents and low cost legal advice from attorneys. Some smaller startups like SimpleCitizen offer online immigration and visa services at fixed fees. Some of these clients getting online legal services might have been your clients in years past. But now they may expect their legal documents to be generated quicker, cheaper and more conveniently than you can generate them.
Some lawyers assert that LegalZoom and its lawyers on tap don’t measure up to the quality that they themselves provide to clients. Perhaps they are even right about that, but do their potential clients recognize it? Even if the clients do perceive the difference, client expectations about legal costs and turnaround time are being influenced by online innovators like LegalZoom.
In a few short years technological prowess will become a matter of survival for solo lawyers, not just a way to get ahead of the pack like Jeff Bennion describes. You still might not be persuaded that you have to get up to speed on technology because the work you do is more sophisticated and nuanced than work produced by the LegalZooms of the world.
Well, have you taken a look at what BigLaw is doing today? They also provide a threat to a solo’s practice. It began with big firms making common forms available online for free. By way of example, the international BigLaw firm Orrick created its free Start Up Tool Kit with a forms library to entice startups to begin building a relationship with their firm.
A number of BigLaw firms now use “Expert Systems” to guide clients or prospective clients through a process similar to what TurboTax does for tax return preparation. The client answers questions and the Expert System generates a document or an online analysis report for the client. To give you a sense of how some BigLaw firms use technology to cut costs for the client while still offering quality service, I’m providing links and brief descriptions of examples below.
- Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati provides tools for generating start-up documents such as a Term Sheet Generator and a Convertible Note Term Sheet Generator. https://www.wsgr.com/wsgr/display.aspx?sectionname=practice/entresources.htm
- Compliance HR – Littler Mendelson P.C.’s automated subscription based program helps clients get answers online to their questions about compliance with employment-related laws and regulations. http://compliancehr.com/our-solution/
- Foley Global Risk Solutions – Foley & Lardner LLP offers an annual fee subscription service with an online automated risk assessment in connection with Foreign Corrupt Practices Act compliance, plus templates and online training. https://www.foley.com/grs/
- Akerman Data Law Center – Akerman’s data security and privacy risk monthly subscription service includes an online Q&A database for compliance questions, research and monitoring and regulatory gap analysis. The system was developed in collaboration with Thomson Reuters and includes consultation with Akerman lawyers. https://www.akerman.com/practices/practice.asp?id=595
- Allen & Overy’s affiliate Aosphere provides an online subscription product for analyzing compliance and operational risk issues in derivatives trading, shareholding disclosure, marketing restrictions and cross border data transfers. http://www.aosphere.com/
- Baker Donelson’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Mitigated Risks LLC, provides online training and web-based toolkits to automate compliance, record-keeping and communications functions for franchisors. http://www.mitigatedrisks.com/franchisor-toolkit/
- Norton Rose Fulbright’s online tool Contractor Check allows businesses in Australia and the UK to answer questions to determine whether a worker is properly classified as an independent contractor or an employee. http://www.nortonrosefulbright.com/knowledge/online-services-resources-and-tools/contractorcheck/
If you have felt safe from the threat of LegalZoom because the work you do is sophisticated and complex, you might notice some of the above services deal with some pretty complex and even nuanced issues. Most of them still may require input from a human lawyer at some point, but the fact-gathering and threshold analysis do not require human interaction, thus saving the client a lot of legal fees. The clients can also take advantage of that service from the convenience of home while in their pajamas at 3:00 a.m., if desired.
Perhaps you don’t do any of the type of work addressed by those BigLaw “Expert Systems.” As the late night infomercials say, “But wait. There’s more!” In September 2016 the ABA Journal blog reported that a corporate law firm formed a wholly owned subsidiary to do lower cost flat fee estate planning work. Do you think they optimize technology to make their processes more efficient?
Don’t delay. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to catch up. Start using practice management software that includes time and billing and workflows. Learn how to use document assembly software and templates that can incorporate client information and other data from your practice management software automatically. Provide client questionnaires in a secure online client portal so that you don’t waste time capturing information that the client can enter herself.
That’s just a start, but many of your lawyer competitors already do all of that and more. Time’s a wastin’!
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.