Good Consumer Law Design: Finding & Hiring a Lawyer

I’ve been thinking a lot about Consumer Law Design — meaning, how do we build new products & experiences for lay people who want to get their legal tasks accomplished well. These are the subdomains of Consumer Law that I’ve drawn out — step by step in a linear process.

  1. How to figure out you have a legal task to get done at all
  2. How to put a name on exactly what this task is & why it’s important
  3. How to prepare yourself to know what steps are needed to accomplish it
  4. How to find the resources or advocate that will help you accomplish it
  5. How to actually get the task done, step-by-step
  6. How to evaluate whether you’ve gotten the task done sufficiently (& perhaps also give feedback to the resource-provider or advocate about how the process has been)

Of course not all consumers of law will follow these steps in order, or need help on all 6. But it’s useful to think of the entire possible flow. If you are looking to design a new legal venture, there are many of these steps that are yet to be tackled. If you are already selling consumer law products, then there is a possibility to integrate support for more of these steps along the chain.

Many of the current crop of legal startups are focused on Step 4 — how to find a lawyer to help you get your legal task done. For example, Mary Adkins on the Huffington Post has a new article on the startup Priori Legal which focuses on how to get a consumer a better lawyer. (HT to Umbreen for sending this article along to me.)

Adkins interviews the co-founders of Priori Legal, Basha Rubin & Mirra Levitt, about what their model is & what kind of consumer law model they are looking towards.

Priori Legal

Some themes are echoed here, which have been becoming increasingly clear to me of late. They could be useful to anyone interested in building new legal tech:

  1. The DIY-forms model is not enough. Helping a consumer put forms together is a low-hanging fruit that some companies may do well, but there are many more opportunities for consumer law
  2. Finding a great lawyer to work with is not an easy task online. The website experience is not rich enough with cues, advice, and signals for an average consumer to feel supported or in a trustable environment. Getting a consumer coming to a website to trust a lawyer she meets on the site is a huge hurdle, that companies need to pay a lot of attention to. I have some ideas for experiments in this space — but the general insight is that putting a photo and a name of a lawyer on the site & then saying “trust him” is not enough.
  3. How to balance trust with efficiency? Building trust online is a long process, lots of talking & meeting to make up for the lack of our usual signals that we get in a face-to-face context, when we have more sources of information about whether a potential lawyer is trustworthy enough. But the consumer also wants to just get their legal task done. So how can we get the consumer who is both hesitant to trust and also in a perceived rush to get the task done? Striking this balance, of having a quick & efficient process and also building up trust & supporting the consumer to make quality choices in hiring a lawyer — is going to be a particular challenge.

Now on to the article, and Priori Legal’s approach:

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 4.12.27 PM

How does Priori work?

There are already lots of ways to find a lawyer on the internet. Some sites aim for comprehensiveness and produce pages upon pages of results—accuracy notwithstanding. Others are bargain-basement cheap, where you can hire a lawyer for $99.99 without the slightest nod toward quality.

What we’re doing is different than anything else out there. You get a short-list of vetted lawyers and pre-negotiated pricing options at a 25% discount off market rates with fixed fees, where possible, for comparison. Then, after you’ve chosen a lawyer, you schedule a half-hour complimentary phone call through the site. If you decide to work with the lawyer, all payment and billing happens through the site, as well.

Who can use Priori? Your site says “for small businesses,” but what does that mean? Could an artist who is a freelancer use it?

Anyone who wants to talk to a lawyer for a business-related matter. Our lawyers practice in a wide range of areas that service small businesses and can help from a straightforward trademark matter to complex litigation. Which is to say: Freelancers can definitely use it, too. Freelancers encounter many of the same legal issues and questions that small businesses do but often don’t have the time or business infrastructure to handle those issues. We have many lawyers in our network who are extremely interested in working with freelancers—both to resolve legal issues and think more proactively about avoiding future problems.

What kinds of lawyers use it?

Small-practice lawyers with an entrepreneurial, innovative mindset who are passionate about providing high-quality legal counseling to small businesses. We vet all the lawyers we work with through personal interviews and reference checks. It’s certainly no free-for-all. These are people who went to top schools and worked at top firms, but decided they wanted to strip away many of the inefficiencies of big firm practice to offer services and advice to small businesses owners and individuals at competitive rates.

How much does Priori actually save people on legal fees?

Straight math answer: 15%. Priori negotiates a 25% discount with each lawyer on our site, and we take 10% on fixed fees for our Management Fee.

More holistic answer: In our conversations with small businesses, we hear a lot of, “I meant to hire a lawyer to deal with [insert issue here] but I couldn’t find the time and I didn’t know how to go about finding the right lawyer in the first place.” Time is money for small businesses. Our business makes it possible to easily connect with a lawyer saves money down the road.

How is the field of law going to change, and do you envision Priori playing a role in this?

Economic pressure on fees has existed for years now. New technologies–everything from document production services, e-discovery, predictive coding, and services like ours–are changing the way lawyers spend their time, increasing the value of certain legal skills and decreasing the value of others.

Many consumers have noticed the proliferation of do-it-yourself (DIY) document sites, such as LegalZoom. These sites make it easier for consumers to go it alone and not hire a lawyer. Though proceeding without a lawyer is problematic except for the most basic legal issues, these site have already—and will likely continue to—greatly enhance access to the forms required to complete simple legal tasks.

But these kinds of DIY services have barely scratched the surface of how technology is going to change the way consumers find and relate to legal services because they address such a limited swatch of the legal market. Though there may have to be a contraction in the total number of lawyers, many of these technologies mean lawyers can have more control over their practices and be able to spend more time advising clients and less time processing paperwork. We see Priori as very much part of this movement.

Is Priori like the health insurance marketplace for law? Are there tiers named after metals?

Yikes. We hope it’s less confusing!