Recently I wrote about the self-fulfilling prophecy of lawyers and marketers trying to convince other lawyers that things need to be done differently.
It shouldn't be lost on the lawyers out there that those that sell blogs, will type all day about the importance of blogs. Those that are in social media marketing, will type all day about the importance of social media to lawyers. There is scant self-criticism, as it doesn't bring in the snake oil dollars.
So the ABA (motto: if you can't beat social media and tech lawyers, join 'em), never too far from capitalizing on the trend of flip-flop wearing Starbucks lawyers, recently hosted a panel at their mid-year meeting on the topic of "change or die." Change with the times, or find another line of business.
Cue the Jaws theme:
Law practice is changing so fast and so dramatically that wholesale groups of lawyers either need to change how they operate or face finding another line of business.
A tidal wave is hitting the legal profession,” former Texas State Bar president and American Bar Foundation immediate past president Richard Pena, who moderated told a packed conference room. “The question is, are we ready?
Yes, I'm ready, where's the courtroom?
Here's the key:
The bottom line, they agreed, is that technology and globalization have caused a massive shift in how potential clients get legal information. Lawyers and law schools are not keeping up.
Tech, tech, tech, tech.
To those who practice law in an office, in a courtroom, with a telephone and desktop - be warned:
If you think nostalgically about the practice of law and how it used to be, then you are on the train tracks and not on the train,” said former Connecticut Bar President Frederic Ury, who is the president–elect of the National Conference of Bar Presidents. “The development of artificial intelligence along with increased Internet search capabilities is making access to answers for complex legal questions easier and cheaper.
And here's what they are really talking about:
Ury pointed to Web-based legal information and document sites such as LegalZoom, cybersettle, CompleteCase.com, and Google Scholar that are providing basic legal information that lawyers once provided for a fee.
Buying documents. (Cue the applause from the virtual law firm Bar)
Why is someone going to pay $700 to have a lawyer prepare a will when they can get it for $49 online,” said Ury. “We have had a monopoly on answering legal questions about the law. But the consumer–our former clients–can now get that information for free on Google.
“Virtual law firms are here,” he said, “and there are now thousands of small town and small firm lawyers who once depended on those consumers who may not make it.
And the ingenious solution:
...lawyers must provide services that are a value-add to their clients. The value-add, they said, is knowing your client’s business better and helping them solve problems that they couldn’t figure out.
OK, gather round.
First, I'm comforted to see that for once, the ABA isn't cheerleading for the social media marketers. This issue is not about social media.
Second, this is not about every area of law (a notion that the internet gurus disagree with, only because it hurts their bottom line).
This is about the value we provide to clients.
No matter what information is available on the internet, people will still require a real attorney client relationship for various types of disputes - litigation is not going the way of Legal Zoom.
People in business with disputes will want to go to a lawyer and have them review the relevant documents and talk to the players in the dispute. Obviously, those arrested will always see the need to talk to a real lawyer, in person, and before they go to court - with that lawyer. People getting divorced, who own homes, have children, and significant assets, will not be buying legal documents through a virtual lawyer.
The concern is solely with lawyers who provide basic legal services - wills, corporation documents, and basic contracts.
Having recently gone through an estate administration for a family member, where the initial documents were faulty, I can tell you I would much rather pay a lawyer $700 than buy a will for a Florida resident from a virtual lawyer.
So while some legal services are available via keyboard and internet connection, there will always be clients who for some crazy reason, would rather actually talk to a lawyer, in person, before having documents prepared for signature that will affect some aspect of their future.
If you want to compete with the $70 virtual lawyer, become a virtual lawyer and charge $67.50. Lawyers today well know the tactics that comprise the race to the bottom.
I, am off the train, and I'm not getting on, no matter how many train riders scream for me to jump on board.
Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.