By Janelle M. Lewis, Principal Attorney, The Law Office of Janelle M. Lewis
Legal Marketplaces are the most recent innovation in legal technology. Unlike other legal tech products, such as document review services, e-discovery services and contract review services, client-to-attorney legal marketplaces are bringing attorneys and clients together. While the innovation is in the way that clients can get connected with attorneys, and the benefit is the increased accessibility to legal services, there are drawbacks. These drawbacks can be very costly to all parties involved and need to be addressed as legal marketplaces become more commonplace.
Overgeneralization of Services & Costs
One drawback experienced by client-to-attorney legal marketplaces is that they can be remarkably general and costs often do not correlate to the legal matter. Why is this a problem? Because it lessens the amount of transparency necessary for both a potential client to specify what legal needs they have and for an attorney to understand said needs. This is especially problematic for legal marketplaces that limit the amount of “matchings” that can occur between clients and attorneys leading to mismatches that can frustrate both parties and take away from the benefit of accessibility. If the nature of the legal service sought and the amount that can be paid (and accepted) to address the legal matter is not made clear prior to the matching, then clients run the risks of not having their legal needs met. Attorney’s, on the other hand, run the risk of not being fairly compensated. All leads to a decrease in accessibility to quality legal services.
Forgetting the Highly Regulatory Nature of the Legal Profession
Another drawback is the adherence of legal marketplaces to rules of professional conduct that regulate the legal profession. The Innovation brought by legal marketplaces to legal services does not exempt said services – and attorney user of such services – from adhering to ethics rules. While the law has long had the reputation for being slow to change, legal marketplaces need to proactively seek out opinions from state and local bars in order to confirm that their services are adhering to state ethics rules. This is especially true as it relates to communication rules, user fees (and the potential for unethical fee sharing) and competency. Bringing innovation to the law is highly commendable to addressing the evolving nature of the legal market but to do so without regard to states’ rules of professional conduct increases the risks of violations on the part of legal marketplaces and attorneys, while increasing the vulnerability of the public using their services.
All in All
I do wholeheartedly believe that client-to-attorney legal marketplaces are a great innovation in increasing accessibility to legal services and I look forward to seeing the expansion of these marketplaces. The drawbacks, however, need to be addressed now so that the benefits of this legal technology service to society are not outweighed by these potential pitfalls.
The views expressed in this article do not constitute legal advice and legal information provided in this post should not be relied upon as legal advice. Please contact an Attorney for advice on your specific matter.
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