The American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services, with the ABA Legal Access Job Corps Task Force and the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) is convening a national conference in Denver, Colorado on August 14-15, 2015 titled: Client-Centric Legal Services: Getting From Here to There. The conference will have special value to practitioners who provide personal and small business legal services, bar leaders, judges and court administrators, legal educators, Access to Justice Commission members and staff, and incubator directors and law school clinicians. The focus of the conference is to explore new law firm business models that can enhancement engagement, re-define lawyer value, and pivot practitioners into 21st Century problem-solvers.
So what are client-centric legal services?
The concept of client-centric legal services is part of a consumer revolution that puts the purchaser at the center of a commercial transaction shifting power from supplier to consumer. Power in the legal profession has always been on the supply side, but the legal profession is not immune from the consumer revolution and the demand by consumers for more transparency, information, and control over the lawyer-client relationship. Consumers want fixed fee pricing so they can control their legal expenses and when possible be a co-producer of legal services to keep legal fees reasonable and manageable. This translates into “unbundled legal services” or “limited legal services”, powered by online delivery systems.
Internet based applications that either enhance the client’s understanding of their legal rights, or enable them to represent themselves with the assistance of an attorney, are examples of client-centric legal services.
A short list would include:
- web-enabled document automation;
- client-facing calendars and appointment systems;
- legal expert systems that provide automated legal advice;
- on-line calculators;
- client portals that facilitate online communication, collaboration and file-sharing between lawyer and client;
- educational videos;
- participation in branded networks that reduce friction between lawyer and client;
- free legal advice or unbundled legal advice for a fixed fee;
A law firm web site that consists of information only about a lawyer’s practice and biographies of the law firm’s lawyers is not client centric because it is solely focused on the supplier and provides no tools that empower the client as consumer.
Here are good examples of client-centric law firm web sites: The Rosen Law Firm in North Carolina – a family law firm; and The Baker Law Firm – an estate planning firm also in North Carolina.
Large law firms and their corporate clients are not immune from these developments as Big Law seeks to provide tools that enable corporate legal departments to service their internal clients more effectively.
For example Seyfarth and the Littler, Mendelson law firm are developing expert systems applications on the NeotaLogic platform that can be used by their clients to more efficiently access legal advice at low cost. See Human Resources Compliance Application.
Prof. Stephanie Kimbro, author of The Consumer Revolution: The Lawyer’s Guide to the On-Line Legal Marketplace predicts that:
“The client-centric law firms that are transparent in their business practices and provide communication and delivery methods that clients expect from professionals in any industry will be the firms that survive in our quickly changing legal marketplace.”