Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Changing How We Should Be Practicing Law

Do you think all a lawyer does is create a form to be a lawyer?  Then you need read to the end.

If you think all you need for your case (divorce, support, custody, visitation, grandparen't visitation) is a legal form to do what a lawyer does, then you definitely need read to the end.  It will probably save you a lot in attorney fees.

Getting the general public to understand what lawyers do, the value of legal services is a problem. Recently, I decided to make a stand on this issue and start unbundling my family law services.  I wrote about this here.  So far the response has been only one e-mail and a request for how much I would charge for reviewing documents.  I have had no response to my fee quote ($50.00).  I am left with the impression - perhaps unfounded and maybe well-founded - that the writer thinks that not worth the cost.  Which is too bad.  Within the minuscule amount of information she gave was contained a problem that will probably result in post-divorce litigation. 

When I returned to private practice back in 2003, I had ideas that document automation posed a great change in how we should practice law.  Writing this blog sharpened some of my thinking on the subject. by giving me a view of what the public thinks.

Lee Rosen of Divorce Discourse published Stop Selling Documents, Start Selling Advice, or Quit that comes close to crystalizing some of these points I have been thinking about:

We get calls from price shoppers sometimes. “How much is a separation agreement?” they ask. We explain that the agreement itself is a small part of the process. The larger issue, and the important part of our representation, is the advice we give about what the agreement should say along with managing the process and the negotiation.

We explain that they’ll divorce once. We, however, have been through thousands of divorces and we’ll help them avoid the mistakes we’ve seen others make.

“But what about the agreement? How much does it cost?”

Sometimes it’s exasperating.

But, realistically, some people want the document, not the advice.

I have the same type of telephone calls.  We call them tire-kickers.  Between the telephone calls and analyzing the Google searches that bring some to this blog, I have come to think that most of the public thinks all they need to do their case is a legal form.  I wrote a bit about this in Free forms, Thoughts for the Do-It-Yourself Crowd, and Unbundling My Services where I likened legal forms to bombs.

Law21.ca's The electric law firm reinforces these ideas on a more general way:

So how might a law firm give away products while selling services? Jeff Carr has observed that lawyer work falls into four categories: content, process, judgment and advocacy. The first two are well on their way to commoditization; the latter two remain the high-value and near-irreplaceable purview of lawyers. The day might soon arrive when firms publish and automate their legal knowledge, document assembly and document review process free of charge, over the internet, to anyone who wants them — but will charge a monthly retainer fee for the personal judgment, advice and representation that animates those documents and processes and provides real value. Wilson Sonsini’s term sheet generator is a step in this direction, but so are child support calculators and PCT calculators. The tangible product is the giveaway; the value, and the profit, are in the service.

Getting a legal form and knowing what to do with it are two different things.  What I and other lawyers provide is the knowledge.  Creating the document plays only a small part in providing legal services.  I cannot understate my agreement withMr. Rosen and Mr. Furlong on this point.

I offer this thought:  get the form online if you want, but get a lawyer to make sure you have not just screwed yourself

Somehow, the Bar needs to educate the public about the value of our services.  I know that presupposes that the general public has an interest in being educated as consumers of legal services. 

On the other hand, the Bar needs to rethink how what it does provide to the general public.  The current recession makes this a necessity for all of us.

1 comment:

Adine said...

Well put. While document assembly technology may well play a role in bringing down legal costs, there is no question about the value of legal advice. Simply filling out a form will only take you so far, unless there are no unclear issues, which is rare. Smart law firms will use technology to automate document creation, freeing up the lawyers to undertake the higher value tasks. Then both the consumer and the law firm will win.