Lessons from MOOCs About the Future of Law

In theory, MOOCs — massive online open courses — sound too good to be true.  Classes are available on any topic – from learning a new language or computer coding or even how to start a law firm. Even better, most MOOCs are free (or inexpensive) and open to anyone with an Internet connection. Yet in spite of these enormous advantages, just ten percent of MOOC registrants complete their courses, reports Harman Singh at Beta Boston.

The reason for these high dropout rates? Singh suggests that lack of student-teacher engagement is to blame:

There are no live instructors to help facilitate the classes, lectures, or content. There is also no straight-and-narrow path from beginning-to-end and the format does not encourage the exchange of different thoughts and ideas among learners. The lack of live instructor involvement also means no follow-up with the student, or any assurance along the way that the student’s learning trajectory is heading in the right direction. At the course’s conclusion, only the learner can determine if he or she was successful.

Singh also offers a solution:

The modern MOOC — without live and interactive teacher engagement — is essentially an Internet version of a book. That said, there is tremendous potential for the MOOC to evolve in a major way. To reduce dropout rates, the MOOC must be structured around live teacher engagement.

Signh’s observations explain both the rise of companies like Legal Zoom as well as their Achilles Heel. Today, even though there are dozens of online resources, including reputable government and court websites, where consumers can obtain free forms for powers of attorney and wills and incorporations, many nonetheless choose to deal with Legal Zoom. Of course, part of the reason is that companies like LZ often have a higher page rank for “incorporation form” than the state secretary’s office.  But in addition, LZ has an interactive series of questions to guide customers in completing customer service available to answer basic questions questions even though they can’t provide actual legal advice.

Just as importance of interactivity explains the rise of LZ, so too, it also creates opportunities for attorneys. Lawyers who don’t simply fill out a form for clients and “set it and forget it” but instead educate clients and make themselves available to answer questions can create the level of engagement that will keep clients coming back.

Of course, interacting with clients can get costly – and I’m not suggesting that lawyers give away consults and time answering questions in hopes of competing on price. But what lawyers can do is to structure pricing in such a way to build in time for client engagement – for example, a  concierge structure, building in a certain number of emails or phone calls into a flat fee or setting aside limited “office hours” where clients can call with questions for a reduced fee.

Singh believes that MOOCs will thrive once educators recognize the importance of teacher-student engagement. Likewise, your firm can similarly thrive when you realize the importance – and competitive advantage — of engaging your clients.