Law is changing. Let me be more specific since laws are always changing – some faster than others. We are talking about the practice of law and the relationship between us attorneys and our clients. We have often remarked about the lack of respect our clients and the public at large give us – some of it is from how attorneys are portrayed in the media – television and movies abound with the stereotypical lawyer who is elitist, greedy and ruthless – some of it from the actual behavior of attorneys – not returning phone calls, keeping clients in the dark, or being too expensive. In the past clients complained but kept engaging attorneys. Today clients are not complaining anymore because they are moving to alternatives – legal technology portals and websites of downloadable contracts. They are cheaper and faster and for a society that is DYI-centric (do it yourself), a seemingly perfect solution.
Richard Susskind says lawyers will go away in his new book “The End of Professions.” As attorneys, we take exception to that. We have no intention of going away – we can and will adapt – and we believe that our personal approach with our clients offers value way beyond the fill-in-the-blank legal services companies. We also have a lot of experience with clients who went the DIY route only to get burned and come back to us desperate to have corrected what these alternatives screwed up. Truth is though we need to be able to give our clients a reason for spending a little extra on us – why are we worth it? What value do we give? Below, we have laid out 15 reasons why we are far more valuable than Legalzoom, and how we justify the minor expense added.
(In no apparent order)
1. All of our attorneys passed a bar exam and are licensed to practice law.
2. You are not a fill in the blank company. You deserve more than fill in the blank legal services! While we do use templates to some degree (to save our clients money), the agreements we make for our clients are custom-made for their particular company, in their state, current with contemporary laws, and compliant with applicable regulations. (I say this because I’ve seen LegalZoom shoot out contracts appearing to be from the 1980s for clients in wholly different states, for businesses involved in landscaping when the contract was written for a doctor!).
3. We can issue spot! What does that mean? LegalZoom can give you a document when you order one, but you have to know what that document is, and why and when you need it (if you even do). We proactively analyze your current situation, taking into account the agreements you have in place and the current laws that are on the books. We then spot legal vulnerabilities for you. Whether you move to fix those vulnerabilities is solely up to you, but wouldn’t you rather know?
4. The quality of our work is better.
5. We know you. We know your company. You know us. You know our company! At LegalZoom, if you could get ahold of an attorney to review an agreement for you, that attorney would be gone immediately after he or she finished analyzing that one document. You would then be assigned to another attorney, and would have to re-explain your entire situation to them, and pay again to get them up to speed (note that this is also how Legal Shield works for businesses as well).
6. We notify our clients about changes in the law as it pertains to them and their companies.
7. We have malpractice insurance. If we mess up on anything, you can recover your losses.
8. We are accountable – to many stakeholders – the public, the courts, our clients, and our profession. It is more than just following the ABA Model Rules or our State Ethical Rules of Conduct. We have a responsibility when we practice law for the public good, and we take this job seriously.
9. Unlike LegalZoom (see disclaimer here) everything we produce for you is intended to be used.
10. We are entrepreneurs as well. Many attorneys own their own law firms – either as a solo practice or as a small business. We are innovative for our clients as we strive to be creative in order to be successful in our business.
11. We are part of the community in which we live and practice. Many attorneys serve on non-profit and charitable boards. We participate in community endeavors and give back to worthy causes. Many attorneys also provide pro-bono services to those in need throughoutour legal careers. We have a vested interest in seeing our communities and our neighbors prosper.
12. You get to call us to bounce ideas off of us and talk generally about the legal ramifications of your business strategies and ideas. Can you do this with Legalzoom? No.
13. We can (and often do) tell you when not to order specific legal services or products, when doing so might hinder your company. A good example of this is how LegalZoom prints out physical copies of shares for new companies that they setup. Doing so creates a legal vulnerability immediately for you; the person in possession of those printed shares arguably becomes the owner of those shares, regardless of all your other agreements to the contrary. Does a 10% owner have all of these shares just sitting in his basement? If so, he may be considered the 100% owner of your company! With those shares, he could take all of your profits, remove any and all money in your company bank account, and even take loans against your company assets without your permission. Unlike LegalZoom, we would never advise you (much less go ahead and print these and charge you for them) to print out physical copies of shares. Oftentimes, knowing what not to do is more valuable than getting a low cost for an item from a company like Legalzoom.
14. We are real doctors (well, analogous to, anyway). When a Doctor writes a prescription, that assessment and treatment is based on a unique individual’s health, situation, and needs; the dosage and specific medications prescribed are unique to the individual patient. With their template-based legal services model, Legalzoom gives the exact same “prescription” for all businesses in all states, in all circumstances, regardless of the type of business it is, the agreements it wants to make, and the owners. Could you imagine a Doctor using the same prescription for every patient that came into his office? Our prescriptions are unique for your business, simple as that.
15. We are in it from A to Z. The whole enchilada. When we take a matter or begin a relationship with a client, they have us throughout the process – not just once in the beginning and then nothing until a final rejection comes through. Most of us go beyond the rejection and get our clients a final solution.
The above list is just a start. As you read through it, how many more reasons came to mind as to why YOU offer more value to our clients than these online alternatives. Or maybe you don’t agree with the premise of this list at all. At the very least this list should give us food for thought about the value we do or do not bring and whether “value to our clients” is one of the principles we adhere to as we practice. They are a great conversation starter but the conversation is far from over. What would you add? Or is there an argument for the demise of lawyers – have we lost our way and therefore lost the right to exist? We don’t believe so – how about you?