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lawgurrl

I Have an Idea

Platform for Unbundled Legal Services  

32 members have voted

  1. 1. Is an online platform for unbundled legal services workable?

    • Yes
      15
    • No
      17
  2. 2. Would you be willing to join such a platform?

    • Yes
      5
    • No
      27


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Hi all,

Like most of you, I've realized that technology wise, the legal profession is at least a decade behind every other major industry, with the exception of perhaps medicine. 

Unlike most of you, I come from a humble background, and one of the first things that struck me about the practice of law is the number of firms that do not even accept clients unless the client can put up a retainer of at least $5,000. This is inaccessible even to reasonably well-off people, hence the rise in the number of self-represented litigants. These people can't afford a full retainer, but many of them can afford a few hours of legal coaching.  

 

At the same time, there seems to be an excess of lawyers who are willing to offer unbundled legal services, some of whom are incredibly experienced, but for some reason, cannot seem to be able to attract enough business.

 

There should be some kind of intermediary enabling people who need limited help with lawyers who are willing to provide that help.

 

I know there are existing directories for contract lawyers offering unbundled legal services, but I haven't found a single one that I would even consider using. Why? the sites tend to be unattractive, with no ratings, offer limited information regarding experience and competence, no pictures, and most don't even provide hourly rates. 

 

We all know that when we use any sort of program, we want it to be easy to navigate and provide all the information we need.    

 

If there was some kind of platform available that was more accessible to the average layperson, would anyone here be interested in joining?

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I am on one of those sites. It's the Family Law Limited Scope Services Project. Justice Net also exists to match modest clients with lawyers willing to do alternative fees. Then there is Reach, Luke's Place and other agencies that put clients in touch for summary legal advice. That is just off hand the agencies that I know that do this. Then there is obviously speaking to lawyers who accept legal aid to see if they would negotiate a more modest arrangement. I always have a few payment plan clients on the go and offer sliding scale for my more limited cash clients. I also know many lawyers that do the same.

There are also those of us trained in collaborative family law that are online and offer alternative services.

Next, few lawyers that I interact with want to offer unbundled legal services for a variety of reasons. Many that I speak with are surprised that I offer them and generally cite liability concerns or are uncomfortable with creating ghost clients.

In any event, I'm always skeptical of people who have these new ideas without checking out the available market.

Also, why the heck would I join a site that encourages lawyer ratings, especially for family lawyers!?

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Doctors get rated, teachers get rated, electricians get rated. Why are lawyers adverse to the idea of being rated for their performance?

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25 minutes ago, lawgurrl said:

Doctors get rated, teachers get rated, electricians get rated. Why are lawyers adverse to the idea of being rated for their performance?

I could see this incentivizing the wrong things and exacerbating ethical issues.

Oftentimes good lawyering means telling a client what they don't want to hear.

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There are rating sites. Lawyerratings exists. Google exists. Yelp exists. Yellow Pages exists.

It's a stupid concept for many reasons. Word of mouth is how I get most of my business. Sometimes, I get a client that hates my advice. Last week, I told a potential client that I wouldn't accept their case if their bottom line was no access to the other party. That person was hella mad and threatened to tell everyone that I was incompetent, etc. Because I did my job as a lawyer and made them understand their rights and obligations. I did give them the contact info to the Law Society, which, frankly, is the only rating service I care about.

Another client was upset because they felt railroaded because I provided their financial disclosure. As I told them that I would. And they're upset that they have to pay child support. That client told me to fuck off and also called me a loser lawyer.

I've made adults cry on cross examination because I challenged their views on parenting, had children returned to what they thought was unsafe living conditions, etc. Why would I encourage a platform that adversely affects me? The internet already exists. Also, don't piss off the powers that be in a mommy blog!

Practicing lawyers understand these things happen. A layperson's view of a good lawyer is very different than what a practicing lawyer would actually think is good. There are 3 lawyers in my town that get business fast and lose their clients once the money is quickly burned out - reviewing the file after I take over is often telling.

Doctors and teachers hate the ratings systems.

Out of curiosity, are you a practicing lawyer?

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52 minutes ago, lawgurrl said:

Good to know it's the lawyer rating part that turns people off!

I mean it literally wasn’t only that, the poster set out a number of concerns. 

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I am, and I guess my work is significantly less emotionally wrought. I don't work in family law. 

I do corporate/commercial litigation, and while my clients get angry, they're usually not angry at me, and they tend to have more realistic expectations. 

All good lawyers get the ocasional crazy client, it's not exactly news, which is why so few lawyers have perfect reviews, and even when they do, they typically only work in very specialized areas, like wrongful dismissal. 

I get your point. 

At the same time, it really is family law that sees the most number of self-represented litigants, and it is these people who would benefit the most from a little bit of legal coaching, hence why I'm exploring the area. 

I have checked out most of the existing services, but there's such a huge number of people who are currently without any representation, that one wonders if there isn't a way to better cater to these people. 

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Generally, most of the public is not equipped with the knowledge to provide a fair rating of professional services.

Providing unbundled legal services is hard to impossible in some practice areas because clients often don't know what they want or need. If it's clear to you that the client needs or should want the whole hamburger but they insist that they will only pay for the pickles, you're then faced with the serious task of crafting the appropriate acknowledgement(s) and non-retainer documentation to protect yourself as the lawyer. So you're doing extra defensive work (or just exposing yourself to a negligence claim) in support of a much smaller fee. I think the problem is obvious. 

Again, that's not true for all areas of law but it seems to be true for a lot of them. 

When you provide a quick opinion, or advice after a short consultation, or perform one small task, you're more liable to make a mistake, I think, that hurts the client because you're less likely to get all of the relevant information, review everything, etc. that you normally would if you were doing that task as part of the whole big job. I think LawPRO has a line like this in some of their public material, "charge a decent fee so you are less incentivized to cut corners". There's just a clear and obvious risk then when you are trying to be creative and unbundle services you will accidentally cut off a lot of corners. 

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1 hour ago, lawgurrl said:

I do corporate/commercial litigation, and while my clients get angry, they're usually not angry at me, and they tend to have more realistic expectations.

That's the issue, right here. The biggest distinction in all legal work (in my opinion) is between working for sophisticated, institutional clients and working for unsophisticated, individual clients. You simply cannot understand the other reality unless you work within it. It's not simply about clients getting angry. It's about the very nature of the relationship and everything that goes into it when you are dealing with a single, legally unsophisticated client who doesn't generally work with lawyers and only knows that their life is exploding and you're the person who's supposed to fix it. In this sense, my practice in criminal law has FAR more in common with family law than anyone working in corporate/commercial could ever understand. It isn't the nature of the legal work that's at all similar - I don't have a clue about family law. It's in the nature of the client relationship.

I won't swear it's impossible to build some kind of network that would connect client with lawyer in some better way. But your basic problem is that you're trying to build a tool for a marketplace you just don't understand.

Edited by Diplock
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38 minutes ago, Diplock said:

That's the issue, right here. The biggest distinction in all legal work (in my opinion) is between working for sophisticated, institutional clients and working for unsophisticated, individual clients. You simply cannot understand the other reality unless you work within it. It's not simply about clients getting angry. It's about the very nature of the relationship and everything that goes into it when you are dealing with a single, legally unsophisticated client who doesn't generally work with lawyers and only knows that their life is exploding and you're the person who's supposed to fix it. In this sense, my practice in criminal law has FAR more in common with family law than anyone working in corporate/commercial could ever understand. It isn't the nature of the legal work that's at all similar - I don't have a clue about family law. It's in the nature of the client relationship.

I won't swear it's impossible to build some kind of network that would connect client with lawyer in some better way. But your basic problem is that you're trying to build a tool for a marketplace you just don't understand.

Agreed. I did a ton of pro bono volunteering and I work at a Big Firm now. 

Family/criminal clients freak out because it's their freedom, their kids, their lives at stake. Institutional clients (usually) only have some of the company's money at stake -  maybe their reputation, but even then, lots of corporate commercial clients bounce back from cases that make them look like bad people in the press.

No matter what happens, they're going to be fine at the end of that day and there's a limit to how much it is going to impact their personal life.

Family/criminal clients genuinely may not be fine, and no matter what happens, their personal lives will be deeply effected. It would be so hard to objectively evaluate your lawyer when the stakes are that high. 

Edited by Starling
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31 minutes ago, Diplock said:

That's the issue, right here. The biggest distinction in all legal work (in my opinion) is between working for sophisticated, institutional clients and working for unsophisticated, individual clients. You simply cannot understand the other reality unless you work within it. It's not simply about clients getting angry. It's about the very nature of the relationship and everything that goes into it when you are dealing with a single, legally unsophisticated client who doesn't generally work with lawyers and only knows that their life is exploding and you're the person who's supposed to fix it. In this sense, my practice in criminal law has FAR more in common with family law than anyone working in corporate/commercial could ever understand. It isn't the nature of the legal work that's at all similar - I don't have a clue about family law. It's in the nature of the client relationship.

I won't swear it's impossible to build some kind of network that would connect client with lawyer in some better way. But your basic problem is that you're trying to build a tool for a marketplace you just don't understand.

This isn't a disagreement, but I will say this - generally, the type of person, even in the corporate/commercial space, who would be using this type of service is not going to be hyper sophisticated legally speaking. There's a pretty large gulf, even in business practice, between clients who work for large-midsize institutions and those who work for small businesses, Sole props, etc. There's plenty of those folks who are highly skeptical of lawyers, and whos lives (to them) are falling apart. Maybe it's that an employee is suing them for 100k and they know that would bankrupt them, or a purchaser won't pay, or they're getting divorced and they don't know what needs to be done to the business, etc.

That's not to say that your clients as a whole aren't going to on average be less sophisticated, and it's certainly not to say that criminal law is equal in stakes to corporate/commercial (it's not). But it is to say there's a pretty large contingent of corporate commercial lawyers that have to hand-hold and empathize and calm clients daily. They just don't work on the 35th floor of TD Tower.

OP - GoodLawyer does what you're suggesting. They incorporate reviews. Nothing new under the sun. 

Edited by whoknows
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If people want to use websites and apps to make legal information more available to the public, then I think that's great. If there are new ways to encourage self-help for those who can't access a competent representative, then I think that's great too. Public legal education is a great thing. More information is better than less. No quarrels there. 

But the other posters are exactly right. Liability concerns aside, unbundled services are not a substitute for skilled and competent counsel. They have a vital place. But being able to access to duty counsel isn't the same as retaining counsel. There's a huge difference between knowing your rights and having a lawyer who is duty-bound to protect them. Getting someone to help with part of a case isn't even close to having a lawyer guide and shape your litigation strategy.  

Part of that comes down to skill and knowledge (which to some degree, could be stored on an online platform). But, as others have said, part of that is the lawyer-client relationship. Retail clients (family, criminal, employment, immigration) aren't just hiring a brain in the jar. They're hiring an advocate -- their sword and shield in an adversarial system; an objective third party, who can shepherd them through decisions too fraught with emotion to make alone.

I know costs can be prohibitive. But if it were me, I wouldn't want to be armed with an app when navigating the criminal justice system. I wouldn't want a beefed up Steps-to-Justice or Legal Zoom when facing-off with the government's  army of lawyers and civil servants. I'd want my own lawyer. 

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Great idea OP. May not be the newest idea on the block, but in an industry dominated by old ideas and old postures (uhh see thread above), anything like this is refreshing. I do hope the response you get here does not surprise you or discourage you. Obviously, when you walk into a lion's den and ask 'hey do we really need lions in this forest?', you are not going to get out of the den alive, but know the rest of the forest agrees with you.

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18 minutes ago, BeetleGirl said:

Great idea OP. May not be the newest idea on the block, but in an industry dominated by old ideas and old postures (uhh see thread above), anything like this is refreshing. I do hope the response you get here does not surprise you or discourage you. Obviously, when you walk into a lion's den and ask 'hey do we really need lions in this forest?', you are not going to get out of the den alive, but know the rest of the forest agrees with you.

I'm all for innovation and improvement, but sometimes conventional wisdom is conventional for a reason.

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27 minutes ago, BeetleGirl said:

Great idea OP. May not be the newest idea on the block, but in an industry dominated by old ideas and old postures (uhh see thread above), anything like this is refreshing. I do hope the response you get here does not surprise you or discourage you. Obviously, when you walk into a lion's den and ask 'hey do we really need lions in this forest?', you are not going to get out of the den alive, but know the rest of the forest agrees with you.

I agree that we have a financial stake in some elements of the status quo, and that self-interest could create opposition to that which threatens our livelihoods. That's not this, though. We're talking about people who can't currently afford representation. I.e., people who we aren't currently serving. Moving these people onto some sort of online platform wouldn't displace lawyers. It would help an underserved population without affecting the interests of lawyers. So while maybe there is some stodgy adherence to old world practices in our responses, I don't agree that this is a foxes in charge of the hen house situation. 

I also think you're giving some of us too little credit. Many of us have actively worked to promote access to justice. @Starling referenced her pro bono volunteering. @artsydork has been open about articling at a clinic before going to work for some of the most comically impossible people alive. @Diplockseems to have been in private practice, but has served poor and vulnerable clients for many years. @CleanHandshas no doubt done something similar, given his insight on poverty law/criminal justice. As a law student, articling student, and lawyer, I've thought about this problem a lot. I've spent more hours than I can count at PLE events, doing summary legal advice, and writing brochures explaining the law to self-reps. I'm not blowing my own horn (okay, I am, but that's not my main point). It's just that other people have been working on Access to Justice issues for a while. We haven't failed to find and implement a silver bullet, panacea, cure for all that ails the justice system because we're greedily hoarding impoverished clients. Sometimes part of it is that hard things are hard. And this is a hard thing.  

Edited by realpseudonym
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There is something bizarre about the notion that some legal coaching is somehow worse than no legal coaching at all. 

Edited by ShadesofRed
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15 minutes ago, ShadesofRed said:

There is something bizarre about the notion that some legal coaching is somehow worse than no legal coaching at all. 

Maybe so, but that's an issue with the framework of how delivery of legal services, liability issues, the court system, etc operate more broadly. That's not all going to go away by simply creating an online platform that tries to ignore it.

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46 minutes ago, ShadesofRed said:

There is something bizarre about the notion that some legal coaching is somehow worse than no legal coaching at all. 

It's not worse for the client, necessarily. By that same token, you could reasonably argue that if someone is without any access to professional dentistry at all, they'd be better off if a dentist could Skype in with them and advise on how they can extract their own teeth. I mean, that's better than doing it on your own without advice, right? But do you really expect any dentist is going to be enthusiastic about a proposal on delivering that "service" or line up to provide it? Do you think anyone will want to do it, or that the personal and professional burden of trying to do it could ever be worthwhile?

Providing inadequate legal services to someone who can't access what they actually need is an incredibly unsatisfying thing to do. It's sometimes necessary and sometimes unavoidable, but it's never what anyone wants to do. Building a model around doing exactly that runs into two big hurdles. First, institutionalizing a bad reality is uncomfortable of itself. It's like opening a new food bank. Good that it exists, bad that it needs to exist. Second, finding lawyers who want to deliver services in this way will be difficult, because it's just a shitty way to work.

Anyway, we may be diverging a bit from the original proposal at the top of this. But it needed to be said.

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1 hour ago, ShadesofRed said:

There is something bizarre about the notion that some legal coaching is somehow worse than no legal coaching at all. 

In some cases it would be. It would be turning someone who has no idea what they are doing into someone who has no idea what they are doing and is also ~$500 poorer. 

The law is complicated. We take seven years of post-secondary education at a minimum to practice it. On top of that, a portion of the people who just flat out cannot afford traditional legal services are simply not the type of people to make use of one or two hours of legal coaching - they just won't be able to distill the conversation and materials into anything productive. Worse, it might even confuse them or give them false confidence. 

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