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Too Often, Bar Associations Solve the Symptoms, but Not the Sickness

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 Correction (8/9/2017) – I’ve been informed that Law Charge, previously mentioned in this post, does not pay for endorsements and so I have removed any reference to that from this post.

Skimming through my aggregator, I came across a ludicrous article entitled Five Ways to Be Secretly Productive At a Meeting . Suggested activities included doodling, practicing mindfulness and daydreaming. In reading the post, however, the answer was obvious: simply ditch the lengthy meetings entirely (and indeed, the article’s last suggested meeting activity was to develop a plan to destroy time-wasting meetings).

Though it’s easy to laugh at the foolishness of this article, aren’t our bar associations doing the same thing?  Consider the following:

Few consumers use bar referral services any more, largely because there are so many other available options online to research legal issues, obtain DIY assistance and even find a lawyer. So instead of improving bar referral services to make them more competitive (the sickness), regulators try to stifle the symptoms with onerous and quite frankly, ridiculous restrictions on Avvo .

Many consumers are drawn to services like Legal Zoom not solely because they’re cheaper, but because they’re so easy to use: complete a form, enter a credit card and shortly thereafter, a will or incorporation shows up on the user’s doorstep. Most lawyers lack the ability to offer these quick and simple transactions: instead, clients must set up a meeting, trek to the lawyer’s office, sign a representation agreement, wait for the document and then receive a paper invoice to be paid by check a month later. So you’d think, regulators would make it easier for lawyers to accept payment by credit card. Instead, it’s still a huge hassle unless lawyers sign up for systems like  Law Pay – which mark-up the cost of credit card payments, but remain entrenched because of money they pay to sponsor bar associations.

There are dozens of other examples that I don’t have time to delve into now.  But the next time a legal ethics decision issues on a new technology issue, ask yourself whether it is solving the sickness or just a symptom. 


Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

  • sgbassett

    You are right. When Bar associations issue opinions or take steps that increase the “friction” assocated with providing legal services, they are hurting lawyers.

    We need to provide services to a generation that regularly uses low-friction services like Amazon and Uber. Until will can make our services as easy to purchase as buying a flash drive or mouse on Amazon, we will continue to lose out to the likes of LegalZoom.

  • Janet K. Welch

    There is a “conventional wisdom” settling in that bar associations can’t and won’t embrace change, and there’s lots of evidence supporting the conventional wisdom. But there are bar associations that acknowledge the need for change and are developing practical solutions and creative answers that don’t rely on monopoly enforcement. My bar, the State Bar of Michigan, has been quietly building convenient, user-friendly consumer tools. Breaking out of the old “go it alone” mentality we are partnering with other stakeholders to spread outreach and improve the products we are building. We also carried out a year-long futures initiative that involved over 150 members to increase awareness and generate new ideas. (Note: commenter @sgbassett:disqus was an important participant). Bars can and must engage in this work. We still have institutional credibility and an existential imperative to do it on behalf of access to justice, the public, and our members. What those of us who are engaged in this work are not good at, alas, is blowing our own horns.

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