I’m going to come right out and say it. Online legal services offer a better service proposition than some estate attorneys. In fact, they currently present the biggest threat to estate attorneys in the history of our industry.

I sense you vigorously shaking your head. Nonsense, you mutter. After all, estate attorneys do more than just draft one-size-fits-all documents. We use our knowledge to advise clients on the best way to protect their family and preserve and distribute assets according to specific wishes.

We offer personal advice. They offer form documents. I’ve heard these defenses from far too many of my esteemed colleagues in the profession. Now I’m the one vigorously shaking my head.

I’ll agree that plenty of others still agree with you … kind of. Among them, a Consumer Reports study that explored the quality of service offerings of LegalZoom, Nolo, and Rocket Lawyer and found them lacking in some respects. But are you really comfortable resting on your laurels when the study’s strongest warning is nothing more dire than “many consumers are better off consulting a lawyer?”

Pay attention, people! What the report also says is that clients with simple estate plans may do just fine with an online solution. And I can pretty well bet that most of you, like me, handle loads of clients whose needs are pretty darn straight-forward.

Online companies already give consumers a solution that’s cheaper and more convenient than yours. And they are becoming more and more sophisticated. New technology, dynamic forms, and increased usability are making them an increasingly attractive alternative to legal counsel.

Those who refuse to admit the appeal of these sites will continue offering the same, droll, standard services that don’t deliver much more to the client, and do so at greater expense and inconvenience.

So let’s quit relying on platitudes about the dangers of trading a scholarly advocate in for a cheap solution. We need to pull our collective heads out of the sand and recognize our need to do better. We are not doomed. We simply need to deliver a better estate plan.

What online solutions do poorly, we can do well. Most clients would actually rather deal with a human. It gives them comfort knowing that a trained professional will walk them through the process, tell them they’ve done everything necessary to be secure, and help loved ones get things addressed after they’ve gone to the great beyond.

But just because they’d rather deal with a person than a machine doesn’t mean we should ignore technology. Instead of fighting against it, embrace technology to make your service more convenient and your clients’ estate plans more comprehensive.

There are online services at your disposal that can help you offer a more comprehensive estate plan and make life easier for your clients and their heirs. Check out LegacyLocker, a direct-to-consumer product that gives users the ability to selectively pass-on online asset information; AfterSteps, a direct-to-consumer offering that helps users pass-on a broader range of important estate information; and Estate Map, an offering that offers all of these benefits in a package that cleanly integrates into an attorney’s existing practice.

Solutions like these can also be used to address important estate concerns such as funeral planning, digital and online assets, the location of tangible property, beneficiary designations on existing accounts, notes to loved ones, specific instructions for asset treatment and distribution, and even a repository for important estate-related documents – all things LegalZoom does not do well.

Do all of these things, and LegalZoom won’t stand a chance.

(image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/amboo213/4020584983/)