An interesting paragraph from an article dealing with the idea of “Good Enough” — services or products that may not have all the “bells and whistles” of their more-expensive competitors, but do enough at the right price to be runaway successes:
It turns out to be a remarkably efficient way of offering what Granat calls legal transaction services — tasks that are document intensive. For everything from wills to adoptions to shareholder agreements, elawyering has numerous advantages. Its cheaper, for example; a no-fault divorce, Granat says, might run a fifth of what seeing an attorney would cost. It’s also faster — customers can access the tools anytime and never have to interrupt their day to meet with someone in a distant office. Simply put, elawyering makes certain legal services more accessible.There are trade-offs, of course. “The relationship has less richness than what youd get from sitting in a lawyers office,” Granat says. “And if you have an issue thats more complex, then you still need to see a lawyer face-to-face.” In other words, its a lower-fidelity experience.But for most simple legal interactions, elawyering is, well, Good Enough. It gets the job done, even if it doesn’t let you ask every question or address every contingency. And not surprisingly, it’s on the rise. “Elawyering will be mainstream in three years,” Granat says. “I predict that in five years, if you’re a small firm and don’t offer this kind of Web service, you’re not going to make it.”
I have yet to see an explosion of virtual legal practices by attorneys (although I have seen a few ads for outsourced legal research, generally to India), but I think paralegals are leading the charge in this area. (See, for example, Paralegal Associates, based here in San Diego.)
The biggest worry I think many might have with this — a worry that might prevent this approach from being “good enough” — is one of trust, particularly in billing issues. With standard hourly billing (at sky-high rates), working virtually with a remote attorney is, well, scary. (Of course, how much real interaction do you really have on an hourly basis with a “regular” attorney?)
In the attorney space, there is an increased focus on alternatives to hourly billing, such as fixed-fee services for routine legal matters (wills, for example). This ties neatly in with virtual legal services, where in-person meetings are less necessary, and flat fees make good sense.
The other area that might make sense in this regard is virtual research: providing remote legal research to other attorneys, who can save time and money. I think this could be a real growth area for virtual legal services, and it keeps clients insulated from potential problems with quality, since a “regular” attorney still buffers any advice and so on.
Combine legal research with paralegal services and perhaps tech support, and you have a winner, I think.