I’ve recently explored a thought experiment relating to what a more practical, consumer-focused license to practice law would look like.
One major objection that attorneys invariably raise – if they can keep from going apoplectic and engage the idea on its merits – is the risk to consumers in getting “legal” help from non-lawyers.
Sure, there are risks. But how serious are they?
First of all, plenty of plenty of people want to pay less for something that’s not fully-custom, with all of the risks and tradeoffs that entails. That’s an important element of consumer choice.
However, there’s a bigger issue: while lawyers are quick to play up the tradeoffs between custom and mass-market services – trotting out the scare tactics about “cookie cutter” services and lack of accountability whenever non-lawyer services are discussed – many consumers may actually prefer such services for reasons beyond just price.
Custom products may win the “spec” battle, but mass-market solutions are not inferior across the board. There is a high degree of variability among the providers of custom legal services. Not just in competence, but in all of the things that go into the customer experience: timeliness, responsiveness, predictability, etc. One of the things large-scale businesses do well? Solve for these sorts of consumer needs in a consistent way.
Why does this matter? Back to my fashion metaphor: if you have a custom suit made, there’s a lot of potential for individual variation. It may very well make you look fabulous . . . but the process may also be a train wreck, marked by endless delays, lack of communication, rework, etc. Those factors may end up being more important than the ultimate cut of the clothing.
On the other hand, you know you can go into Nordstrom, buy something off the rack, have some in-house tailoring done, and end up with clothes that look pretty damn good. And they’ll be delivered on-time, with a smile.
For most consumers, that combination of predictability and price point makes purchasing off-the-rack the right decision – even if it means foregoing an element of fashion-wonderful upside that’s only attainable by going fully custom. It’s plenty good enough – and the predictability of the outcome makes the process lower risk than going custom. 1
In the legal world, imagine customers knowing they could call, anytime, and get an update on their status. Imagine having a clean web interface and all documents stored in the cloud. Imagine any of the myriad ways that a responsive, predictable, and transparently priced experience could be delivered to customers. THAT’s what a larger-scale business could deliver – and it’s what a whole lot of consumers are clamoring for. 2
This obviously doesn’t work for every legal issue or practice area. Getting custom help is critical when your freedom is on the line, or the matter is complex, high-stakes, and adversarial. But for many types of legal services, there may actually be more risk in the custom solution than the off-the-rack choice.
If only such options were available.
- It may even make it lower legal risk than custom in some areas, as businesses can build in process and quality assurance in a systematic way that few law practices invest in, particularly for lower-value consumer work. ↩
- This isn’t to say that lawyers couldn’t deliver services this way. It’s just that they haven’t done so, and don’t seem to have much interest in starting. ↩