LegalForce: Forcing Law to Be Accessible


For me, the above LegalForce  brand concept — a scales of justice anthropomorphized — encapsulates all that excites me about the launch of the exciting new LegalForce business model conceived by lawyer/entrepreneur Raj Abhyanker that I attended last night in Palo Alto, California.

photo3_capFor so long, images of the scales of justices have served as mindless shorthand on lawyer logos, signage, websites, business cards and stationary to convey the concept of legal services. So much so, that the scales of justice – and the lawyers’ power to deliver it – has been reduced to meaningless and frequently laughable cliche.  But with one sweeping yellow arc, the LegalForce logo reclaims the scales of justice, transforming it from a stale, hollow concept to one that’s welcoming and accessible.

Therein lies the force behind LegalForce: a multi-faceted concept to make not just the law – but also  lawyers — accessible to consumers.   Inspired in part by the AppleStore concept, LegalForce makes the law user friendly just as Apple has made technology user-friendly for the past decades.  The LegalForce store functions as the physical hub for a variety of law-related services for consumers and small businesses, offering law and business books, tablets loaded with law resources and access to computer-based forms.  After all, many times consumers may not need a lawyer at all.

But for me, what sets the LegalForce model apart from other 21st century  law startup schemes  is that rather than take lawyers out of the equation or view them as an after-thought; the value-add tail that wags the dog, LegalForce places lawyers as a central focus of its access model in a variety of ways.  First, LegalForce’s Chattorney feature (short consults with lawyers) allows consumers to chat with a lawyer in person (in a private area in the store) or online via video and provides a central spot where lawyers can offer educational programs to the community.  By enabling easy access to a lawyer, LegalForce can help consumers determine whether they need a lawyer at all or if a self-help form might suffice (that’s the biggest problem with many of the automated nonlawyer providers, as Eric Ridley discusses here; it’s not that these company’s forms are necessarily poor quality; rather, there’s no reliable system for determining whether a particular form or service is necessary to begin with. Even with a perfect form, inaccuracy in = poor outcome out).  In addition, rather than forcing lawyers to cut corners  or costs to serve the platform’s business model, LegalForce helps member firms to improve the quality of service they deliver. Among other things, the LegalForce branded lawyer network will provides backend support and practice management processes and serve as a legal brand for member firms. By assuming these functions, LegalForce helps these firms control costs and while freeing their time to focus on serving clients.  Admittedly, the LegalForce network may not be the right fit for all lawyers or all practices, but for others, it many lawyers, it promises to offer a sound and far preferable law firm model to the slim pickings available now (auction services, bargain basement fee caps, pay-per-click, pricey SEO, marketers-gone-wild, etc…)

Moreover, as client interactions with LegalForce – online or in person increase, these interactions will produce valuable data that can help lawyers better serve clients as well as to better understand the lawyer-client relationship (as I’ve written here, we’re not there yet).  Analyzing trends in consumer need can also drive innovation in the law by identifying needs consumers never knew they had and fostering niche practice areas or new models to address those needs.

In many ways, LegalForce takes us back to the future. After all, back in the days of Atticus Finch, lawyers acted as pillars of the community readily available not just to bill hours, but to answer questions or   informally resolve a dispute between neighbors in exchange for a few chickens or a home-cooked meal.  By setting up on Main Street in the center of the community, a modernistic store housed in a renovated historic building, LegalForce marries the best of our profession’s past with the brightest of our future by reminding us that lawyers continue to play a vital, civic role in society – not just to litigate and churn hours or scare people –  but to answer questions, alleviate fears and help.

photo2_cap Last night, I was honored to attend the LegalForce launch; I serve as one of the company’s strategic advisors along with  Richard Granat, Michigan State University’s Reinvent Law Lab founders, Professors Renee Knacke and Dan Katz and two others.  As is the case with so many other things (past blogging for American Law Media and past Nolo affiliation or the  Rakofsky lawsuit), my introduction to Raj Abhyanker, LegalForce founder started here at MyShingle, with this post where I described how rather than rely on pricey (and not always effective) pay per click solutions, Raj created his own client feeder system by building a trademark search engine, Trademarkia. After my post, our paths crossed on Twitter, we interacted on email and this opportunity came my way.

Of the LegalForce advisors, I believe that I’m the only one who still actively practices law.  Because in spite of the alluring siren’s song of new business models and the progressive-on-the-surface call to  eliminate lawyers to reduce costs, I am still (mostly) drawn to (most) of work that I do.  And after more than ten years of blogging at the MyShingle beat, I still believe  (foolishly, even romantically) that what lawyers, particularly solo and small firm lawyers do matters  so long as we value what we offer rather than cannibalize it. LegalForce gets that, Raj himself gets that and now, all of us get to see where this exciting new venture goes.

Note – there’s a lot more to Legal Force than what I’ve written here. I’ll post  or link to the presentation from last night when it’s available on line, so stay tuned…

Editor’s Note – This is not an objective post. I am a strategic advisor to the company, a limited role but one which deserves prominent disclosure. At the same time, the reason that I’m doing this is because I really like the idea. But it’s a work in progress, so skepticism is both justified. For my part, my credibility as a blogger of 10 years is, honestly, more important than anything to me –  and as with my prior affiliation with Nolo (which ended when it sold out to marketers), I’ll be transparent about my potential biases.