Startups and entrepreneurs in need of legal assistance are seeking alternatives to the traditional law firm model for convenience and affordability. Law firms are responding by providing unbundled legal services through different models, and doing so without sacrificing revenue.
I have written before about how lawyers can use unbundling as part of a marketing strategy for their law firms to differentiate themselves from traditional full-service law firms that stick to the billable hour model. Unbundling facilitates fixed fees and packaged legal services, and can be delivered online using secure methods. These alternatives to traditional delivery of legal services particularly appeal to busy and often money-strapped startups and entrepreneurs.
Take for example Cooley LLP’s Cooley Go. Pitched as a “mobile-friendly microsite,” the service of the firm caters to the startup and entrepreneurial set by providing unbundled legal forms and resources online, including a document assembly tool. Clients can take advantage of the Cooley Go’s unbundled services, and can connect with one of their lawyers for additional full-service representation. While this is no doubt part of a larger marketing strategy to attract cost-conscious and busy entrepreneurs and small business owners, this model still offers flexible payments and delivery.
Fenwick and West LLP created Fenwick Flex as a way to provide unbundled legal services and in-house counsel where legal assistance can be purchased by the number of hours a project might need. A startup needing a lawyer to assist it in a specific acquisition or other event might want to retain the unbundled services on a project basis, rather than retaining the traditional firm on the billable hour model for full-representation.
What both of these online models demonstrate is the law firm reaction to the market need by startups and entrepreneurs for unbundled and convenient legal assistance. What is also clear is that these services are not being offered at the detriment of the law firms, but rather as a creative way of inviting a target market base into their firm’s trusted fold. The projection of choice and flexibility that these models provide for clients is what sells the law firm. The use of technology, in the case of Cooley Go’s document assembly tool, allows their lawyers to offer services unbundled without sacrificing time or charging the same billable hour for standard documents.
This is an important lesson for law firms, because other online legal services such as UpCounsel are already on the scene attracting startups, small business owners, and entrepreneurs with affordable and convenient unbundled legal services. As the ABA Partners with Rocket Lawyer on pilot projects to connect members with clients through their platform, we will see unbundling occurring in more practice areas.
For solos and small firms, you will want to find ways to collaborate with companies like Rocket Lawyer and UpCounsel to connect with clients who desire unbundled legal services. Larger law firms will want to look at ways to create unbundling departments within their existing business model, such as those at Fenwick and Cooley. Lawyers will not have to sacrifice legal fees to offer unbundled services if they take note from the business models that work best.
A shift to unbundling in the legal profession will lead to greater access to legal assistance across most practice areas. The Legal Services Commission already acknowledged the benefits of unbundling and mobile delivery to increase access to justice in its 2013 Report of The Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice. The ABA House of Delegates adopted a Resolution 108 on Unbundling in 2013 encouraging the practice.
While the unbundling trend may be starting out with larger firms for startups and entrepreneurs, it will make its way to down to smaller sized firms and encompass many more areas of law. All lawyers can benefit from learning techniques for unbundling and using technology to deliver services online.