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The Future of Legal Services: It’s All About Client Empowerment

empowermentThe legal industry is facing a multitude of problems and is on the verge of disruptive change.  Just like the changes taking place in so many other industries, the disruption will come from technology.

Technology makes just about everything faster, cheaper, easier, more efficient, and more accessible. It’s only a matter of time before technology becomes heavily entrenched in the practice of law.

But what effect will tech have on law? Surely the industry will look and function differently than it does today – but in what ways? How much of a role will software play, and to what extent will actual lawyers still be involved?

In order to predict the effect of tech on the legal landscape, we must first look at the major problems with legal services today from the consumer’s standpoint.

Problem #1 – Lack of Accessibility to Lawyers

Despite the ease of communication and the speed at which information travels these days, lawyers remain largely inaccessible. Many have little-to-no presence online aside from a landing page and a LinkedIn profile. This makes it difficult for people to find the right lawyer to meet their needs and leaves them few alternatives for comparison.

The lack of accessibility makes consumers uncomfortable and turns them away from lawyers toward other options – e.g. the champion of do-it-yourself legal services, LegalZoom.

Problem #2 – Lack of Decision Making Power for Consumers

A new client walking into a lawyer’s office is essentially powerless. The lawyer controls nearly every aspect of the relationship: what course of action the client should take, how much work is required, and how much the service will cost.

This is partly due to the inherent nature of the practice of law.  But it also comes from the lack of accessibility, and more directly, the lack of alternatives. How do you know if this particular lawyer’s plan and billing rate are the best fit for you? When you have no easy access to alternatives, you have no control.

Problem #3 – Lack of Transparency

In most service industries, you can find a wealth of information, customer reviews, and price comparisons for various companies with a few mouse clicks or taps on your smartphone.  That’s hardly the case with legal services.

There is very limited information about lawyers online, especially when it comes to reviews from trustworthy sources and the prices of various services. This creates an air of “shadiness” that leads people to believe lawyers are too expensive and not worthwhile if they can be avoided.

Problem #4 – Inflated Rates Due to Inefficient Client Acquisition

Most lawyers struggle to find new clients, and this inefficiency in the market increases prices.

Legal work is difficult and time-consuming, which leaves very little time or energy to focus on business development. Lawyers rely on word of mouth, advertising, referral services, or networking to find new clients, but none of these sources are efficient, cost-effective, and reliable.

Think about it…if lawyers can’t find new clients, they have to spend additional time and money on their marketing and advertising efforts.  In order to cover these excessive costs, they bill the clients they do have at inflated rates.

If lawyers had a more efficient way to acquire new clients, the cost of legal services would inevitably decrease due to greater competition amongst lawyers vying to be hired.

The Solution: A Tech-Enabled Legal Marketplace and Client Empowerment

All of the problems discussed above ultimately boil down to one thing: a lack of power in the hands of the consumer.

Consumers like efficiency. They like transparency. They like alternatives. They want the power to make purchasing decisions that best meet their needs. But the marketplace for legal services offers none of this in its current state.

So what does the future of legal services look like? It looks like something that will give consumers what they desire: an efficient market with reasonable prices, greater transparency, and enhanced accessibility to offer more alternatives. In other words, the future of legal services will consist of using technology in a way that focuses on empowering the consumer.

Currently, that empowerment comes in the do-it-yourself form. People would rather download and fill out their own legal documents from LegalZoom than work with a lawyer. When they need legal advice, they turn to Avvo or Quora.

None of these services provide anywhere close to the level of personal attention and protection that you can get from actually hiring a lawyer. But they do empower the consumer, and that has tremendous value. Only when things go wrong do people turn to lawyers for help, when they could have set themselves up to avoid such problems from the start.

As people turn away from traditional legal services in droves, the legal industry must adapt by embracing technology. But until the focus shifts to empowering the consumer, lawyers will continue to take a backseat to DIY software and crowdsourced alternatives.

With the growing number of players in the online legal services space, the company that ultimately wins the race will be the one to find the best approach to empowering the consumer, while still keeping actual lawyers involved in the process.