Posted by: johnocunningham | October 20, 2014

ABA Warms to Affordable Online Legal Assistance

As Monica Bay noted in her “Game Change” column in the October issue of Law Technology News, ABA president William Hubbard is looking at new ways of extending affordable legal assistance to small businesses and self-employed commercial consumers through online avenues once snubbed by many leaders in the profession.

Bay reported in her column that the ABA and RocketLawyer.com are “teaming up to explore innovative solutions to a vexing legal paradox – the difficulty small businesses face finding affordable legal services at a time when many lawyers would welcome expanding professional opportunities.”

Currently, RocketLawyer offers legal consumers monthly flat fee membership or discounted annual plans that allow members to ask basic questions of “on call” lawyers via email or phone. Members can also download legal documents and forms prepared by lawyers, and they can hire lawyers with whom they have communicated or who they have researched in the RocketLawyer online directory.

Other competitors, such as LegalZoom, have offered similar services in the past, and they have periodically battled with state bars that have accused the online providers of engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. One state bar even tried to ban all self-help software and books sold by alternative legal providers.

But now the tide seems to be turning, perhaps because numerous surveys have shown that working class Americans cannot afford or simply will not purchase legal services offered in traditional office settings at traditionally high prices. The intervention of state legislatures in opposition to state bars, and the development in other countries of legislative broadening of alternative avenues for legal service offerings have probably clarified inevitable future trends as well. The 2007 Legal Services Act in the UK, and similar legislative developments in other countries portend further global deregulation of legal services.

The ABA should be lauded for its latest effort to find non-traditional ways of connecting potential clients to legal professionals at affordable prices. This makes a lot of sense at a time when the public is under-served despite the fact that roughly 25 percent of law school graduates are unemployed or underemployed. It is also the wave of the future.

 

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