TechnoLawyer’s BlawgWorld (free subscription required) had an interesting item a few weeks ago about how LegalZoom is beta testing a concept that would allow it to offer its legal services through small firms under the LegalZoom brand. It’s fraught with ethcial complications, which were outlined by the blog’s author Richard Granat on his eLawyering Blog.
From my perspective, LegalZoom is merely emblematic of why law firms need to reevaluate the way the offer legal services.
For those unfamiliar, LegalZoom provides commoditized business services for flat rates. You can do everything from forming your LLC to filing a trademark. They provide easy to understand descriptions of the requirements for filing. They walk you through a series of questions to help you fill out the required forms. They will even call you on occasion to point out facts that will help you make sound decisions without the advice of a lawyer.
For example, I recently used LegalZoom to create an LLC in California. They called to ask me what day I wanted to file, noting that if I filed before a certain date I would be assessed a tax in 2010. If I filed after that date, I wouldn’t be assessed the tax until 2011. They didn’t advise me on what to do, they merely read me the rules.
In sum, LegalZoom has taken an area of the law that can seem onerous and has demystified it by making it easy to understand.
Legal ethicists and regulators will have the last call on whether this constitutes practicing law. For lawyers practicing in this area, the onus is on them to show what added value they can bring to the table that makes the one-on-one service worth the cost of admission.
That’s not a bad thing. It is just different and it’s a reflection of how the practice of law needs to change to provide better service.