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By now most attorneys are familiar with virtual law offices, whether they are completely web-based or integrated into the structure of a traditional law firm. However, new models of online legal services are developing that combine the products and branding of familiar companies with the services of licensed professionals. These newer models of delivering legal services online raise interesting alternatives for attorneys wanting to dip their toes into the waters of elawyering, but they also raise interesting ethical issues.
For example, Rocket Lawyer is a company in partnership with LexisNexis. Rocket Lawyer provides the public with free legal guidance, resources and the ability to create their own legal forms. The product is marketed to consumers in a manner that is similar to the LegalZoom model. However, after the process of completing the legal forms or obtaining research on their legal needs, the consumer may request to be matched with an attorney in their jurisdiction for review of the document and additional assistance at a “discounted rate.”
Here’s where the practitioner has a chance to jump in and get referrals to the large numbers of the public who go online seeking legal assistance. The attorney who pays to join Rocket Lawyer’s referral directory may be matched with the consumer seeking assistance. The parties then continue the relationship where unbundled assistance is provided or it may change to full-service depending on the client’s needs. The information and pre-filled forms that the client completed online are transferred to the attorney when the client begins working with them. This legal services model does not provide the same case or client management features or the functionality of a backend virtual law office for the attorney, but it does generate leads to online clients who are interested in unbundled legal services.
The Rocket Lawyer blog, The Sociable Lawyer, recently featured one of their attorneys, Brian Powers, who uses both the Rocket Lawyer referral service and Clio among other technologies to facilitate elawyering.
Other online legal services companies may be considering similar referral models that will also encourage the practice of using technology and the Internet to deliver legal services online. Richard Granat writes on his elawyering blog about a new model of delivering services that LegalZoom may be implementing where a network of lawyers will be delivering services online under the LegalZoom brand name.
Why is it important that practitioners keep an eye on these new delivery models? Because our clients are actively seeking online legal services. If we do not step up as a profession to meet this market need for access to justice, then other companies are going to find ways to do so, whether or not it is in the best interests of the public or meets the high standards of professionalism to which attorneys are held. Unlike UK legal professionals, attorneys in the States are unable to create alternative business structures with other professionals that help meet our public’s needs. Donna Seyle recently wrote a resourceful post on this topic.
The online delivery of legal services will continue to develop into innovative models that we can only imagine at this point. Attorneys should be taking the lead in developing these methods and ensuring that they place legal professionals as the primary go-to source for legal assistance online.