I posted the following topic on the Legal Innovation group on LinkedIn: Is Nolo Press (www.nolo.com) an innovator, a “threat”, or just a nuisance? Nolo Press ( http://www.nolo.com/ ) started out as a counter-culture response to the high cost of lawyering for the “average Joe”. It has morphs from “legal kits” to online legal forms and rakes in tens of millions of dollars a year. I got some interesting responses that I thought worth posting here.
Solomon Bedford writes:
The question is a good one. A related question I would like answered is whether attorneys should ingore, compete with, or partner with such businesses? The threshold issue is whether a lawyer can be involved with such a product/ service in manner consistent with the rules and spirit of professional responsibility. The trend has developed strong momentum because there is a segment of the population that desires a finite service and or product at a finite price. This is an issue the ABA touched upon in a publication regarding limited scope representation. I would like to know if anyone has any thoughts on this issue.
Richard Durfee writes:
The short answer is “yes.” It is an innovator to consumers who don’t like paying big legal fees, a threat to lawyers without imagination or self confidence, and a nuisance to the do-it-yourselfer that doesn’t complete the paperwork. It is good for people to take responsibility for their own legal affairs, and a huge mistake in this day and age for attorneys to assume that the public needs them as much as they used to, or that consumers are as ignorant of their options as they were in the pre-internet days.
Maurice Hendriks writes:
Hi Seth, my short answer is “no”. It is not an innovator as there are numerous others who operate following an identical business model. My brief analysis on what NOLO does is that they do nothing more than providing references to legal information as per their ‘About Us’ statement ‘We are the nation’s oldest and most respected provider of legal information’. To the best of my knowledge they do not actually provide legal advice but only provide access to legal information, but please correct me if I am wrong.
I definitely do not see their model as a threat. People buy kits online as a first step. Then they start filling them out and not infrequently find that is all too hard and decide to go the local small legal firm for a free consultation after which they often end up as a ‘small’ client. Looking at it from that perspective, it may actually generate work for lawyers. Filing in the forms online is a service that has grown as a natural progression of the Internet and as Richard mentioned, it is time for professionals to adjust their business and mind-set to the innovative Brave New World.
A nuisance is something personal, if it is a personal nuisance then it may be time to ascertain why it has become one and possibly start thinking about leveraging and benefiting from the facts rather than wasting time being frustrated by it. It can of course also be ignored.
Mitchell Kowalski responds:
This is about as threatening to the legal industry as online trading is to stock brokers. This group and the others who do the same thing, will have a nice niche market. But there are also a lot of people who are interested in personalized service to ensure that things are done “right”.
In short, there is room for both.
And, at the risk of being seen as more cynical than I am (a huge stretch!) as a lawyer, I’m happy to be rid of the type of client who would buy these kits.
Bruce Marcus responds:
his is intermediation, in which a customer bypasses a traditional middle man. When you trade online and skip a broker, when you log on to the internet with your symptoms instead of calling your doctor, when you read your newspaper online instead of buying it at the news stand, even when you do your own taxes with a tax software package, that’s intermediatin.Is it a nuisance? Only if you let it be, but it’s a fact of life. Adjust your practice, and move on. you can’t stop it.
Further Thoughts on the Discussion
Solomon makes a good point: “The threshold issue is whether a lawyer can be involved with such a product”. Nolo has a sister site http://lawyers.nolo.com/ which feeds business to lawyers; I don’t know what fees they charge. They may also have links when you complete a form to “find an attorney” to help you with the form.
A second player, LegalZoom, a competitor to Nolo ( http://www.legalzoom.com/ ) also is offering a legal directory, along with automated forms and paralegal services.
A third player, http://www.directlaw.com/ offers a different pitch. For a fee, they will set up practitioners with their own space in directlaw where they can sell directlaw products, along with their own legal counseling services. DirectLaw handles the billing and takes a fee for its document production services.
So the question Solomon raises is apt; should a lawyer get involved with one of these vendors. It could lead to referral business. While the typical person who approaches these sites is not a “big spender” everyone knows that some small spenders become big spenders, and enough small spenders can constitute a viable business.