In 2013, LegalZoom did over $200 million in revenue. Those numbers have surely gone up significantly since. It’s a pretty logical conclusion that, without LegalZoom and others like it, those hundreds of millions of dollars would be going to us lawyers. That’s a lot of marble-trimmed conference rooms. Even the most mathematically challenged lawyers among us esquires (myself included) have to admit that’s a sh*tload of money (legal term).
So why do I think that’s a good thing?
It forces us all to get better.
Traditionally, lawyers as a profession have been painfully slow to adjust to changing times and markets. That’s not intended to be an insult to our profession. It’s just simply that we’ve never had a reason to adjust or compete. There was no alternative and too many barriers to entry. Just like travel agents had to deal with online travel sites, newspapers have to deal with blogs and new media, we have to deal with advances in legal technology.
New document automation companies and online legal services are popping up every day and taking huge chunks of the legal market. Why does that not worry me?
Although these companies should (rightfully) create some competition for us, the bar is really, really, really, really low. Like really low.
Think about it. If a surgeon can’t compete with a company that will sell someone a scalpel, there’s a bigger issue. If we can’t do better than an algorithm or a call center employee somewhere in West Virginia, maybe we are in trouble.
It’s our job to help our clients realize why we bring value to the table and why relying on documents without any context, insight, or customization is dangerous (and maybe worse than not having anything in writing at all).
To be clear, I think legal automation services are (outside of very specific situations) potentially dangerous for clients. They can give someone the illusion that they’ve done everything necessary to protect themselves, run a business, protect their estate, etc. when, in most cases, they probably haven’t.
In fact, LegalZoom says very clearly on their website:
We cannot provide any kind of advice, explanation, opinion, or recommendation about possible legal rights, remedies, defenses, options, selection of forms or strategies”.
Fellow lawyers – That’s where we come in. I am still trying to figure out how I can get paid without providing advice, explanations, opinions, or strategy. It would greatly reduce my workload, but I’m still trying to figure out what exactly the client would get out of that deal.
But LegalZoom is good for our ecosystem. It creates competition. It creates a need for us to be more customer-centric. It requires us to invest in our platform and make the client-lawyer relationship a better one. It makes us think about the value we can add to client’s business and lives. It takes us off autopilot.
It’s not an obstacle for us. It’s an opportunity to do better work. If we don’t, it sounds like LegalZoom will always be hiring.