Can lawyers-on-demand revolutionize the legal industry as we know it? John Suh certainly thinks so, and he’s got a plan to make it happen.
His company, LegalZoom, has been called “Uber for lawyers.” In practice, it’s hard to not see the similarities. Launched in 2010, the startup began offering small businesses a subscription plan that entitles them to unlimited 30-minute calls with lawyers about basic legal issues. If a question or problem requires more time, the client can easily hire an attorney through LegalZoom.
The company’s phone lines are staffed with lawyers from small firms throughout the country. If clients consistently give the attorneys poor reviews, they can lose their job with LegalZoom. This helps to keep only top-tier legal experts on hand.
Suh believes he can increase demand for lawyers and make the whole process of obtaining legal aid easier than ever before.
“We want to democratize law,” said Suh. “If the legal system only works for the 1 percent of Americans that can afford it, and 99 percent can’t use the benefits, that’s not a system, it’s an oligarchy.”
Whereas a traditional law firm might charge anywhere from$50 to $1,000 an hour, a LegalZoom subscription costs around $25.00 a month.
“While [Suh’s] service could be useful to a particular sector of the population, small business owners in particular, it isn’t quite the law-firm-killer some people have made it out to be,” says Donald Filmore, a family attorney. “For example, many people go their entire lives without ever needing serious legal advice, or may only need it a few times on specific occasions. So paying a monthly fee, even at that rate, just isn’t practical for everybody. Not to mention, working with attorneys over the phone instead of in person isn’t always the easiest.”
Still, Suh believes he can revitalize the legal industry. According to Bloomberg:
“In the past decade, the number of working lawyers has fallen by more than 50,000. Solo practitioners, the mom-and-pop shops of jurisprudence, have been in a death spiral for even longer. Since 1988, income for stand-alone attorneys, of which there are 354,000 nationally, declined by 31 percent. In 2012, their average income was $49,000, according to tax returns. Meanwhile, the typical person who needs legal services makes $100 less per hour than what lawyers charge, and most small businesses opt not to hire attorneys when they have legal problems, research shows.”
Not everybody is so convinced. In fact, LegalZoom has come under fire in some U.S. states. Recently, however, the company has successfully overcome those obstacles in all but two states. Bloomberg again:
“The North Carolina state bar, which had fought to block LegalZoom from providing on-call lawyers, agreed to let it do business in the state. The settlement diminished the final obstacle to Suh’s grand plans. Only Tennessee and Michigan still prevent LegalZoom from offering its services.”
So, can Suh’s vision really change the future of the legal profession? That remains to be seen. But he’s off to a good start, so far.