Last week, I returned from a trip to China with a new accessory in tow: a fake Coach bag. Though I’m aware of arguments that purchases of counterfeit luxury items harm the brand, other studies have found no discernible effect . In any event, because I can’t fathom ever paying a few hundred dollars on a bag that to my untrained eye, looks no different than something I’d pick out at Walmart, I reasoned that my purchase of a fake Coach wasn’t depriving the brand of a sale.
My internal debate over whether to buy a fake handbag purchases brings to mind the ongoing objections to Legal Zoom and other DIY legal tools. In many cases, the consumers who purchase DIY wills or divorces are unlikely to hire a lawyer anyway — either because they can’t afford the service or don’t see the value. So too for me and fancy bags: though technically, I can afford a Coach bag, I’d rather spend my discretionary funds on a fun tech toy since I don’t appreciate value of a real Coach bag over a fake.
As with the legal profession, technology is also changing the world of counterfeit goods. The Internet has hastened the speed and circulation of duplicated of designer brands. The quality of designer bags has also improved which means that consumers can be more easily duped into believing that a fake bag is real and paying top dollar. For lawyers, technology is also improving the quality of DIY legal services so much so that consumers have been able to successfully sue Equifax or its recent data breach .
Despite of the rise of counterfeit bags, luxury items are still in demand. In particular, consumers are increasingly seeking out luxury products online – though luxury brands have been reluctant to sell on the web for fear of losing their mystique through broad accessibility to commoners. Lawyers struggle with a similar elitist mentality — on the one hand, firms want and need to go where the work is – yet many lawyers don’t want to “commoditize” services by selling documents or quick consults as products online for fear of cheapening or devaluing the service. But as luxury brands are fast learning, lawyers must also remain accessible online to stay relevant.
Ultimately, the analogy between luxury handbags and lawyers breaks down because no matter how wealthy or status-conscious a person may be, a designer handbag simply isn’t a necessity whereas a lawyer still is. Lawyers aren’t necessary all of the time, and there are plenty of matters that can be capably handled by machines. But for an executive embroiled in bet the company litigation or a blue-collar family man wrongfully accused of a capital crime, a robo-lawyer or DIY service, no matter how sophisticated, won’t suffice. Counterfeiting can make a luxury handbag affordable to the masses, but for all of the technology advances and access to justice initiatives, we still haven’t found a way to make a great lawyer an affordable luxury for those occasions when it really counts.