Make Money Monday: The Done With You Legal Business Model

For years, legal futurists have lamented that the legal profession hasn’t been able to develop fully do-it-yourself products with the same widespread adoption rate as Turbotax. Most commentators blame outdated ethics rules and protectionism for the lack of success but in truth, the fault lies with clients.  

Because many clients don’t want a DIY solution for life’s problems like drafting a will or ending a marriage or protecting a brand.  They want to talk to an expert, and in most cases, they’d prefer that the expert be a lawyer and not a paraprofessional.  And DIY falls short for a second reason as well: users don’t enjoy the same accountability that they’d have in working with a lawyer.

On the other end of DIY spectrum are traditional done-for-you (DFY) services. That’s where a lawyer interviews the client, extracts the information needed and either drafts up a contract or will or trademark application or a divorce petition.  Because DFY services are time-consuming, they’re expensive and out of many clients’ price range.

Since 2002, when I started blogging and tracking solo and small firm trends,  DIY and DFY were the only game in town for legal consumers. Sure, unbundled services were also an option but even they fall into the DFY category – the work performed by the lawyer remains “done for the client,” but the lawyer handles a narrower scope – such as drafting a will but letting the client handle the notarization and filing.

But in truth, between DIY and DFY, there’s a huge swath of market share that I like to refer to as DWY – done with you services.  An immediate example of “done with you” service that comes to mind is Erin Levine’s Hello Divorce, where clients can take a stab at filling out forms to divorce, but have the ability to consult with an attorney or paraprofessional with questions.  Subscription services are another type of DWY service where clients who encounter legal issues in their business can consult an attorney several times a month to help them through as needed instead of hiring a full-time outside counsel.  

These examples, however, barely scratch the surface of DWY services.  A lawyer could host a class and walk attendees through preparation of a trademark application or drafting an EEOC complaint.  They could have clients prepare the documents needed for a small claims case or arbitration but handle the actual negotiation or arbitration.  

DWY services aren’t for luddites.  Without the technology advancements to guide clients through information gathering, DWY services wouldn’t work. But DWY services are preferable to DIY because they create accountability to make sure that clients actually get the job done while keeping lawyers relevant.  That’s a win in my book.

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