A couple weeks ago something happened at the ABA TECHSHOW that was uncharacteristically TECHSHOW and certainly uncharacteristically ABA. The Friday keynote at the conference featured leaders from Avvo, LegalZoom, and Rocket Lawyer. Beyond being a break with TECHSHOW’s historical prohibition on “vendors” on the stage, many lawyers have what could be termed a conflicted relationship with all three of these companies. The leaders featured in the program, Mark Britton CEO and Founder of Avvo, Charley Moore CEO and Founder of Rocket Lawyer, and John Suh CEO of LegalZoom. The three were interviewed by ABA Leaders Judy Perry-Martinez, chair of the ABA Presidential Commission on the Future of Legal Services and Paula Frederick General Counsel for the State Bar of Georgia.
Here are the five best things I heard come from the stage at the keynote:
“The supply chain of legal services does not revolve around us as lawyers. We revolve around the consumer. Until we get that Copernicus-like thinking, we are going to struggle.”
“There are deep structural challenges to being a solo practitioner today that have little to do with whether alternative legal service providers [like LegalZoom] are stealing work from solos. Consumers and small businesses spend roughly $100B every year on legal services. The total annual revenues of LegalZoom are less than one percent of that. . . The issues that solos are facing, the systemic problems, existed long before the advent of the internet. There has been a decline in solo practitioner income inthe last 40 years, since 1971, with the bulk of that decline happening in the 80s and 90s. Alternative legal service providers have little to do with 99.5% of work that lawyers do.”
“If you cannot afford a lawyer, you do not live in a democracy. Any government that makes it harder to access a lawyer is not advancing democracy.”
“Everything we do, at the federal and state level should start with: What are the customer pain points and how can we solve them in interesting and innovative ways? If we don’t become, as an industry, experts in our customers and our potential customers, asking them what they want and [asking ourselves] ‘how can we provide it?’ our profession will eat itself.”
“We have a massive problem of access to legal services for the middle class. If we want to solve that problem. . . the question is ‘how can we utilize technology to have a solution at scale?’”
If the ABA TECHSHOW Twitter feed was any indication, this panel was very well received. If the wide range of material covered was any indication, conversations between lawyers and not only just these specific companies but also others in their space, in general, could yield very powerful insights. So, maybe the best thing that I heard from the panel was something Paula Frederick said about an issue that didn’t get discussed as the panel was ending: “Well, we’ll have to take this up next time.” From your lips, Paula, to the ears of the ABA TECHSHOW organizing board.