OK, so I understand that a company like Thomson Reuters doesn’t "get" the concept of free. After all, Westlaw, one of Thomson Reuters’ flagship legal products costs a pretty penny. Even so, it’s one thing to charge for a product that delivers value, as Westlaw undeniably does. It’s quite another to extract payment for materials that are either readily available for free or worse, are completely inaccurate. Yet that’s what exactly what Findlaw, a Thomson Reuters company is doing to solo and small law firms.
Like many other commercial legal product providers, Findlaw is jumping aboard the solo express, scrambling to offer products and services to this previously overlooked segment of the legal population now that solo is the new Soho. Now, even though I’ve been serving solo and small firms at My Shingle for six and a half years, I don’t take resent the johnny-come-lately’s, particularly if they can offer useful content that I can’t provide. And on the surface, Findlaw’s recently upgraded Law Firm Business Center seemed to do just that, with some informative (albeit extremely basic) videos on topics like law firm structure or fee agreements as well as a collection of articles (albeit outdated and sparse) on practice management issues.
I grew excited when I came across a link to Attorney Forms and what appeared to be a searchable data base of forms that lawyers can use in starting a practice. So I began playing poking around and to my horror, I discovered that (1) Findlaw is charging for the same forms that are available at MyShingle FOR FREE and (2) many of the forms that Findlaw holds out as "official forms" for a jurisdiction are substantially different from the FREE forms which the jurisdiction provides and which are also accessible at no charge through MyShingle.
For example, I decided to take a look at adoption forms for California. While the site allows for a free on-screen preview of the forms, you need to pay $12.95 to download a usable version. However, you can access those same adoption forms for free directly from the California court site, which in turn is directly accessible from MyShingle’s Soloformania. Moreover, by visiting the court website directly through Soloformania instead of downloading the forms, you’re assured of getting the most up to date version.
The Findlaw site is even more pathetic when it comes to retainer agreements, engagement letters or other forms for running a practice. As most lawyers know, the provisions required in retainer agreements are often state specific. Many states have "magic language" that require lawyers to spell out certain matters to clients in contingency cases or other requirements. For example, compare the sample engagement letter for Missouri that Findlaw is selling for $12.95 with the retainer letter sample that is available FREE from the Missouri bar and accessible through MyShingle.com at our Bars Reviewed (under Missouri, practice resources). Now granted, the Bars Reviewed links to just 10 or 12 bars that have sample agreements on line, but the agreements are free and far more robust than anything on sale at Findlaw.
We’re entering a precarious time when charlatans, opportunists and even established organizations that never gave solos a passing glance are angling for a piece of this growing market. Findlaw isn’t the first company to try to prey on solos and small firms with a garbage site masquerading as content and it won’t be the last. Caveat solos.