Thursday, August 11, 2011

Google enters the legal services market (sort of)

This is big.  Only a few years ago an idea like Google Scholar was inconceivable; that a company would give away for free legal research databases that the other guys charge a hefty fee to use. Now, of course, everyone recognizes that Google is a game-changer given that even Westlaw is trying to emulate Google's free search engine with WestlawNext.  But this latest move may be even more significant. The Law Librarian Blog, via Forbes, is reporting that Google has just invested $18.5 million in a company called Rocket Lawyer which, going one step further than LegalZoom, offers cut-rate legal advice from real, live lawyers via the web.  Sure, some employers have for years offered pre-paid legal services plans that give covered employees access to lawyers for routine matters at a low monthly cost. But Rocket Lawyer is taking the concept to the masses via the web.  Forbes explains:

Rocket Lawyer provides online legal forms, from wills to Delaware certificates of incorporation, that non-lawyers can fill out and store and share on the Web. For $19.95 a month, consumers can also have their documents reviewed by a real lawyer and even get legal advice at no additional cost.
. . . .
[Founder Charley] Moore was careful to differentiate his company from LegalZoom, which has tangled with lawyers and bar officials in several states who accuse it of practicing law without a license. (A trap that people who provide legal documents can find hard to escape.) Rocket Lawyer is also affiliated with real lawyers who can provide advice in a pinch. Federal issues are handled nationwide, while somebody with a question about, say, New York contract law would be hitched up with a lawyer licensed in that state. (NOTE: LegalZoom offers similar legal services, for a fee.)

“Rocket Lawyer gives consumers technology to do things themselves with no human intervention at all,” said Moore. “When they do need help, and they do, they can consult with a lawyer.”

Assuming some measure of quality control, this is undoubtedly great news for clients on a budget (which is most of us) who won't have to pay high rates and overhead costs associated with visiting a brick and mortar law office.  By the same token, it can't be good for solos and small firm practitioners who rely on routine legal work like drafting wills or reviewing contracts from local clients to pay the bills.

As we have blogged before, this move by Google also jibes with Richard Susskind's prediction in his book The End of Lawyers that the commodization of routine legal work is going to drive the cost to zero.

If you're still on the fence about whether the present downturn in the legal job market is cyclical rather than structural, maybe this latest development will change your mind.

Big Hat tip to our buddies at the Law Librarian Blog.

(jbl).

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_skills/2011/08/google-enters-the-legal-services-market-sort-of.html

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