The Ethics of Legal Subscription Services

Via Jordan Furlong’s  twitter stream, I learned about Legal Care, a UK-based legal subscription service.  The Legal Care package costs 14 pounds/month and includes  free template documents, a will pack, document review service, 25 percent discount on fees if a solicitor is needed and a guaranteed response to emailed inquires within an hour, 24/7. Legal Futures is reporting that a top investor, Luke Johnson, has backed the company.

Billed as innovative (as anything speedy or web-based is these days), the Legal Care “subscription” concept resembles Prepaid Legal and Legal Zoom’s recently announced (and similarly priced) subscription service. The theory behind subscription or membership services or tollbridge arrangements is that they produce a regular stream of revenue by charging a small fee for a regularly provided, limited product.  Presumably, the monthly or annual fee is low enough that consumers scarcely think twice about signing up while the corresponding value (prompt email responses or document review) are substantial enough so that consumers feel that they’re getting a deal.  Because many of the subscription-based services involve repetitive simple questions, the service can often be provided by non-lawyers like paralegals or law students, subject to supervision.

The other benefit to subscription services is the potential to upset. Granted, you won’t get rich with 30 members paying $20/month.  But any time their friends have a legal problem, or they have a matter that’s too involved for basic subscription service, the subscription-service provider gets first crack.

Subscription services are legal services, though. And as such, they’re subject to ethics requirements governing reasonable fees and refundability.  I’ve covered these matters in my 21st Century retainer program, and if you’re interested you can register here.