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Another Day, Another Directory for Lawyers

Via Bob Ambrogi’s  Law Sites blog, I learned of the launch of Modern Attorney, a new legal directory intended to serve the needs of today’s millennials. Developed by Next Chapter  which was recently acquired by Fastcase, Modern Attorney includes the types of information believed to be important to millennial in choosing a lawyer – such as whether a firm accepts Venmo or Bitcoin as payments, offers unbundled services or virtual or coffeeshop meetings.  Lawyers can also add “fun facts” about their hobbies and personal interests.  What Modern Attorney does not include, however,  the one feature that made Avvo so controversial: ratings and reviews.  

As for cost, right now the price is right.  If  you sign up before 2020, it’s forever free  – so why not?  After 2020, the cost increases to $25/month with a $150/initiation fee which though  relatively inexpensive is still a waste if it doesn’t yield business.  Right now, Modern Attorney can afford to make the service free because it also serves as a tie-in for NextCase bankruptcy software users, thus giving bankruptcy attorneys another reason to sign up for the software which remains the real money maker.

So what’s my verdict on Modern Attorney?  Admittedly, Modern Attorney is a neat concept and there’s at least some evidence (not to mention the developers’ personal experience) to suggest that millennials want to know whether firms are tech savvy before hiring. Unfortunately, because of the ever-present chilling effect of bar regulations, some attorneys are unable to accept payment by Venmo because of ye olde trust account restrictions  while others remain uncertain as to whether payment by bitcoin could result in an unreasonable fee or again, run afoul of trust account regs.   As a result, Modern Attorney inadvertently places at a disadvantage lawyers who don’t offer Venmo or Bitcoin not because they’re old school but because of ethics uncertainty. Memo to legal tech companies: please take steps to change the stupid ethics rules ( as I have ) before penalizing lawyers (by making those who can’t offer Venmo and Bitcoin stick out like sore thumbs) who feel they have no obligation but to comply. 

On a larger scale, I also wonder more generally about the role of directories in helping clients find lawyers. Even back in the pre-acquisition heyday of Avvo, most consumers and even many attorneys had never heard of the site. So they continued to look for lawyers either through seeking referrals or blindly googling.  And many times, law firms with high Google SEO still showed up ahead of a lawyer’s Avvo listing.  Modern Attorney’s situation may be different because it purports to serve the millennial niche and therefore, needs only to perform well in that niche to drive users. But otherwise, I’m still not persuaded of the utility of directory sites to help clients find lawyers if only because the directory sites themselves can be hard to find.

But here’s the other thing. For all of its claim to focus on the needs of millennials, Modern Attorney falls short on what in my view is the most important: whether a particular client is a given law firm’s ideal client.   That information is critical both for clients searching for lawyers but also for lawyers looking for other lawyers to refer cases. What I mean is that if I have a mom-owned business to refer, I want a firm whose ideal client is a mom-owned business. If I have to refer my mom to a lawyer, I need a firm whose ideal client appreciates but is also willing to pay for handholding.  To date, there are no directories that I can think of that offer this kind of detail that would make clients feel comfortable and that would facilitate lawyer referrals.

Even so, kudos to Modern Attorney for trying to break the mold of the traditional directory. Perhaps that’s where the future lies – in niche directories.