Technological developments hit every industry eventually, and the time has come for the legal profession. The accessibility of online legal tools that offer assistance in drafting simple legal documents, such as LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer, makes these resources the next big thing.
Some lawyers resent the arrival of these platforms, feeling they’re undermining the value that lawyers provide their clients. At face value, these online tools might seem detrimental to the business some law firms thrive on, but they can be used to aid clients and lawyers.
Don’t Shy Away
Much of the fear surrounding clients’ use of online tools stems from the idea that these automated programs will replace lawyers in the document drafting process, meaning firms will ultimately lose business to these cheaper alternatives. Firms should, however, realize that online legal tools are simply incapable of replacing the analytical legal skills that lawyers possess.
While some clients might think LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer are suitable replacements, they tend to create general legal documents and are unable to cater to clients’ specific needs. At best, they provide starting points for clients or serve as supplements for what lawyers do when creating documents. Documents that are created solely using automated resources are unrefined — and, in some cases, even legally ineffective.
When clients use online tools to generate documents and bring them to attorneys for revision, they save money in legal fees and enable attorneys to use their time more efficiently. By taking advantage of the benefits automated tools offer, firms have the opportunity to serve more clients and provide more value.
Online resources can improve your firm’s bottom line if you use them correctly. Here’s what they can do:
- Increase Efficiency
By creating a hybrid system that combines clients’ use of online tools to generate basic documents with the specificity and legal expertise offered by a lawyer, firms can make time- and money-consuming activities shorter and more financially manageable for their clients. Rather than spend multiple billable hours drafting one client’s document, attorneys would be able to consult with clients for only an hour or two, which would ultimately attract more clients.
Take a simple will, for example. Instead of a client paying $1,500 for a lawyer to draft and edit it — and paying just $50 for a website to do it inadequately — clients could pay a lawyer around $350 to walk them through the document automation platform. The lawyer would counsel the client on decisions and repercussions, but the actual creation and execution of the document would be automated.
On a per-minute basis, the lawyer’s time would be more profitable, making the client happier and more willing to come back for future services with the knowledge that he’ll receive the full benefit of an attorney at a fraction of the cost.
- Educate Clients
After initially consulting with attorneys, many clients have questions. But due to the complex nature of law, lawyers sometimes forget to explain basic — yet confusing — legal principles. By having online legal tools available, clients can seek answers to those remaining questions at their own pace. And they can seek them without getting charged for answers that consume lawyers’ time. Used correctly and in conjunction with an attorney, the Internet can help clients understand what’s actually happening when their documents are drafted and executed.
Sure, some attorneys will argue that online resources only lead to more questions. But educating a client is a key part of an attorney’s job, and legal websites help educate clients about their cases and allow them to make more informed decisions.
- Boost Margins
By coordinating clients’ use of online resources with a lawyer consultation to ensure that a document accomplishes what’s needed, the cost of each client to the firm can decrease. And because the client is spending less time and money on long, exhaustive drafting sessions, it may be possible to charge a higher per-minute rate for higher-level consulting and editing.
Online legal tools are helpful — not hurtful — to both clients and attorneys. Remember, even though automated tools are convenient in creating important documents, there will always be a need for lawyers to ensure that these documents accurately reflect and accomplish what the client seeks.