Posted by: johnocunningham | February 1, 2012

The Big Complaint About Legal Services: The Cost

In recent years, I have noticed a growing sentiment among consumers of legal services that lawyers are just “too expensive.” This is a problem for the profession because it really means that consumers don’t see the value provided by legal professionals.

According to a report by the Maryland Legal Assistance Network, there is now a “tide of pro se litigants flooding the court system.” This report cites a number of distressing statistics, including one from the National Center on State Courts, which reveals that more than 70 percent of cases now feature at least one party that is going “pro se” (representing himself or herself without a lawyer).

More and more people are also turning to online services such as “LegalZoom” to cut the costs of document preparation related to wills, contracts and other basic legal needs. Others are turning to software services to execute certain legal tasks, such as document preparation or e-discovery, instead of lawyers. This has prompted some market observers to assert that lawyers must now find a way to compete with online and software service providers to survive.

The fact that there are many good reasons why legal services are not cheap is not striking a chord with consumers. The fact that the practice of law is a thankless job requiring lots of education and lots of risk is not enough to make them choose legal representation versus “do-it-yourself” solutions, and this is a problem in Canada and other developed countries, as well as America.

Furthermore, the chorus of dissatisfied ordinary consumers has been joined by more sophisticated types, such as a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who has written NY Times op-ed pieces calling for the elimination of law schools and bar exams, at least as a barrier to entry for performance of some basic legal functions. It might sound absurd to practitioners, but the NY Times and other papers are publishing more frequent commentaries in agreement.

The profession is facing a serious economic challenge – our services are simply not valued at the price we are charging. As lawyers, we must figure out ways to improve efficiency and reduce costs while also educating consumers about what they are getting for their investment. If we can’t explain it, then they won’t find any reason to buy it.

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