Who will bear the risk of convenience?

Convenience in this context means the ease with which clients are willing to pay for and appear to receive what they regard as legal services or a substitute.  LegalZoom, for example, is convenient.

As technology spreads and the ability or willingness to pay for traditional legal services (or for anything else) grows smaller, entrepreneurial lawyers will find new ways to leverage their law licenses by offering what appear to be legal services without what makes legal services valuable:  taking the time to listen, think, counsel, advise and represent.  And the willingness to be accountable for the services one has provided.   One apparent path to making money “in the law” is to sell commodities in high volume – forms and templates that have the trappings of “the law.”  LegalZoom is an example.  Attempts are being made – some with apparent success – to substitute technology driven processes for independent professional advice.  Counseling takes time.  Processing data does not.

The convenience purchased by consumers of these types of “legal services” will come with some risk attached (at no extra charge), namely the risk that customers think they have received value but haven’t.  This could happen when customers, who receive “legal looking”  forms filled in and neatly presented, believe they have received what they need only later to find out that they have not; that the professional looking form, neatly filled and presented does not comply with the law or does not have the legal meaning that the customer believed it had.  If that happens, there be no one to hold responsible.  When comes to online legal services like LegalZoom, all sales are final.  The risk of buying convenient, modestly priced “legal services” from vendors like LegalZoom rather than from lawyers who one can visit and look in the eye and talk to is on the consumer.  That risk may also be on society as well.  It is too soon to tell.  But one of the – if not these most – prevalent  causes of  legal disputes is unmet expectations.

Prediction:  lawyers who figure out how to deliver independent professional advice using technology will succeed.  If independent professional judgment ever becomes too expensive for most people, the foundation of the law will weaken.