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Walmart Law’s Noble Roots

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Via Solo Practice University’s Susan Cartier-Liebel, I learned that $99 wills and have documents notarized  — at least at two Walmart locations in Canada. The services are offered through Axess , a bonafide law Canadian law firm, through small branch offices located at the entrance of two Walmart stores. Currently, customer-clients can access Axess for wills and notary services; other matters are referred out to other firms.  Axess plans to add uncontested divorces to its service menu in the fall.

While Axess’ Walmart-based branch offices are fairly new, the concept of a store-based firms or legal kiosks has been around for a while. As Susan notes, she blogged about store-based law firms years ago, as did I. And of course, in the UK, Tesco Law  – supermarket-owned law shops – functioned as shorthand for alternative business structures (ABS) enabled by the  2007 Legal Services Act  — though significantly, the Axess model differs because the branch offices are owned by a law firm, not Walmart.

Many lawyers today turn up their nose at the concept of “Walmart Law,” – either arguing that a downscale location isn’t sufficiently dignified for lawyers, or questioning the competence of firms that choose to practice in that manner.  But truth is, the Walmart Law concept has legal nobility in its history, as I discovered on a family vacation in the midwest this summer. 

En route from Chicago to St. Louis, I insisted on a pit stop to visit Abraham Lincoln’s historic law office on a trip through Springfield, Illinois.  I’d never seen photos of Lincoln’s office and expected a stand-alone store front type building near the center of town or the courts. So I was taken aback to see that the Lincoln law offices were located right in the same building as – and in fact, adjacent to –  Tinsley Dry Goods Store goods store, which apparently was the 19th century’s version of Target  back in the day.  Lincoln frequently walked through the store each day to reach his office.  Moreover, not only was Lincoln’s office next door to the store, but for a time, the federal court also operated out of the same building.

The choice to locate a law firm — or a court, for that matter – where it’s convenient to clients doesn’t imply a low-rent operation but rather, a commitment to make legal services accessible to the public. Certainly, Abraham Lincoln realized that.  If a dry goods store was good enough for Lincoln’s law firm, then it’s good enough for today’s lawyers and our clients as well

  • Paul Spitz

    That is where the term “storefront lawyer” came from, I imagine.

  • Kerry

    I’m not sure that people critique the location of a law firm in a Walmart store on the basis that it is “Walmart Law”, or that it doesn’t look prestigious enough. I question the marketing strategy of locating a law firm in a place where you’re not reaching a market where you can deliver profitable services. If you want to reach a higher end client that can afford your services, you’re better to locate yourself in Whole Foods. And, seriously, 99$ wills. How could anyone make a profit on that?

  • myshingle

    That’s a very good point. This firm – Axess – seems to be focused on lower-priced matters and presumably, will make money off these transactions by leveraging technology for efficiency. I’ll note that while $99 is cheap for a while, $25 for notarizing a document is very expensive for the US (most banks will do it free, and in Maryland, there’s a cap on what notaries can charge. In addition, by locating at Walmart, Axess can increase its visibility so perhaps reduce advertising costs. Nevertheless, I do tend to agree that a business model that relies on low cost and unbundled transactions as a stand alone business model without any larger matters to counterbalance that work may not be sustainable in the long run.

  • Tom Crane

    Now, I wonder if Tinsely Dry Goods was perhaps the up-scale dry goods in Abe’s day and he would never deign to office next to a low-rent dry goods store…..

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