Direct-to-consumer legal forms providers such as LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer have established that they’re not going anywhere—in fact, with recent announcements of partnerships with the American Bar Association (Rocket Lawyer) and Sam’s Club (LegalZoom), they stand poised to claim even more of the $275 billion legal services market.
LegalZoom itself has posted $156 million in revenue and served over 2 million customers in the last decade—to the chagrin of traditional lawyers and bar associations. But while $156 million and 2 million customers are impressive numbers in their own right, they’re still a relatively small piece of the legal services market as a whole.
There’s still plenty of room in a market reliant on consumer-level legal services. Lawyers, particularly are in a position to take advantage of rapid changes in technology to use commercial legal forms in their own practices.
How, you ask? Let’s find out.
1. Use legal forms for legal research
Experienced lawyers and large law firms will often have a pool of previous case files that they mine for sample work and copy as the basis for a new set of documents. This is often called “knowledge management,” and allows lawyers to copy successful language from previous documents into a current case. Commonly, this copied language is called “boilerplate.” It allows lawyers to focus on the parts of a document that are unique to each client and feel comfortable that the normal ancillary aspects are covered.
If you don’t have a previous case or file that can supply the boilerplate, you can turn to the same vast library of forms and templates that the public now enjoys. These forms are often crafted by experienced lawyers and available at a fraction of the cost of information contained in the specialized, legal databases that lawyers have relied upon in the past. You can also use consumer legal forms as the basis of an eventual solution for your clients. For a small fee, consumer forms can guide you as to the format, substance, and boilerplate required for successful cases.
Lawyers can then devote the majority of their time researching the unique aspects of their client’s needs, rather than spending hours locating a guide in traditional sources. Consumer forms can act as a rough draft from a paralegal, or a brief from a junior associate that lawyers can then tailor to each client.
Note: Ensure you take the time to confirm the accuracy of the information derived from consumer forms—it’ll still take a fraction of the time that would have been spent on compiling a rough draft from scratch. Also, be mindful of any licensing agreements that come with the purchased form; copyright and other licensing agreements may prevent lawyers from using some consumer legal form providers.
2. Become an affiliate legal form seller
Comfortable using consumer legal forms, but worried about licensing difficulties? Becoming an affiliate seller of forms can be a profitable solution to your concerns. Affiliate sellers are independent contractors that sell branded content on behalf of the business that created it, and they receive a portion of every sale as a commission. Many consumer legal form providers have affiliate sales networks, with lawyers acting as their sales agents.
For example, Legal Zoom maintains a robust affiliate network, allowing sellers to profit from the rapidly growing use of consumer legal forms. Becoming an affiliate seller gives you the opportunity to capture some of the business that you’re already losing to a public that would never hire a lawyer initially. Instead of losing fees entirely to the consumer legal form vendors, lawyers that affiliate seize a portion of that lost business for themselves.
Even better, lawyers that sell consumer legal forms via an affiliate network can use them as loss leaders to obtain clients. Initially, clients may turn to you merely for a commercial form; but later, if their legal needs grow, they now have a relationship with you, and you’ll be front-of-mind in their consideration for further legal services. Consumers are more likely to turn to a lawyer that helped them with a previous matter, even if that matter was a simple, do-it-yourself form.
With some affiliate networks, the form acts as a marketing and client referral network. Clients buy the form, and the form providers refer the clients to affiliated attorneys who help them with any unique concerns. Rocket Lawyer operates in this fashion; their advertising and document library brings clients in the door to their affiliated lawyers.
3. Create your own legal form business
After you become more comfortable with the use and sale of commercial legal forms, you can then create your own legal form business—the ultimate use of consumer legal forms. Automation technology and online sales tools have made it easier than ever for you to capture your legal expertise as a product they can sell to a vast market.
What about offering DIY forms that help consumers in your own niche area or creating automation tools that walk consumers through simple legal procedures? The lawyer behind Dynamic Legal Forms saw that consumers had no legal forms provider in his jurisdiction. He started drafting his own forms and selling them directly to consumers. In 2012, Dynamic Lawyers sold 10,000 will packages to consumers. My Legal Briefcase is another lawyer-founded service that provides an automated walkthrough for Small Claims Court cases.
Consumers enter their information into a website that helps guide them through options, format their claims. It even lists some potential actions the consumer can consider. Both of these services were started by lawyers, who in addition to their current legal practices, found that offering consumers a commoditized version of their legal expertise could be a profitable endeavour.
Start using commercial legal firms today
Stop hand-wringing and tooth-gnashing over the emergence of legal form providers, and instead examine the motivations and market conditions that led to their explosion in popularity—and then use the options detailed above to take a piece of the consumer legal forms pie for yourself.