Consumers love the car service Uber, and the business has been massively successful. A million think pieces have been launched on the “Uber economy”, and tech investors are always looking for the next business to be disrupted Uber-style as has happened to the taxicab business. The Uber-ization of everything is a trend that continues to explode.
So where is the Uber for Lawyers?
While there is little doubt that tech efficiencies and consumer transparency are coming to the practice of law, how it plays out and evolves will be quite a bit different.
Uber is about the democratization of labor markets, and increasing efficiency for consumers. But while almost anyone can decide to become a driver for Uber or rent out their home with Airbnb, going to law school still requires a lot of time, effort, and money, so there a significant barrier to entry on the labor side.
There are a few small aggregators out there trying to market themselves to consumers as an Uber for lawyers, but other than a slick app and a high-tech user interface, those companies aren’t doing much more than simple lead generation and distribution.
And while a car ride is a car ride, and a hotel has a fairly limited amount of key features – location and amenities, legal services require a much more detailed understanding of a client’s needs to be matched with the experience of the attorney.
Clients very often don’t understand what legal services they need, and how complicated it will be. That is why the billable hour continues to be the standard in most old-school legal practices.
In my practice area of criminal law, we have been using flat fees for years. So you might think it would be relatively simple to quantify.
But it still takes time and at least a brief conversation with the prospective client before I can quote a fee. I need to know the charge, the details of any prior criminal history, and any other potential complexities of a case so I can estimate the amount of work involved.
Pricing transparency is never going to be close to what services like Uber can offer. Everyone knows exactly what is involved in getting from point A to point B, but it takes someone with experience to price legal services.
Even the more simple and quantifiable flat fee legal services – simple wills, small business incorporations, and basic criminal defense representation can have hidden complexities that an attorney will quickly red flag, but a consumer or service provider will miss. And business law, or potentially complicated litigation is probably impossible to uberize.
But there is still plenty of room for technological efficiencies that can help consumers, and streamline the business of law practices.
What Will a True “Uber for Lawyers” Look Like?
Criminal defense law is what I do, so I can most easily work through specifics in criminal cases.
At my law firm, we represent lots of people at clerk magistrate’s hearings for charges like leaving the scene of an accident and other misdemeanor offenses, as well as lots of drunk driving pleas and trials. I can quote prices in these cases within 5 minutes of speaking to a potential client.
In many ways, criminal law comes the closest to the Uber model for lawyers. It has cases that can be priced quickly by an attorney, and it has urgency – someone who just got arrested, and is being arraigned tomorrow wants an attorney right away.
We often get calls from people in this situation, but often myself and my associate attorneys are booked up.
We also generally don’t handle some specific types of cases like firearms charges, serious felonies like vehicular homicide or cases in Federal court,
What we do now when we get a call from a lead that we can’t service is try to reach out to the best and most appropriate attorney in our network of criminal lawyers across Massachusetts who can help.
So if I get a call from a client who needs an attorney tomorrow morning in Framingham district court, and if I’m not the right lawyer for this type of charge, or I don’t have an associate available, I have a colleague who I know is regularly available in that court. I will reach out to him via text, and if he is available I will connect him with the client within just a few minutes.
But if there was a more efficient way to refer a client to a known and trusted attorney in all kind of situations, I would absolutely use it.
Why We Need a Peer-to-Peer Uber for Legal Referrals
An Uber for lawyers platform should take advantage of the expertise that attorneys have built into their intake system. I often talk to prospective clients on the phone, but 10 minutes into the conversation, It’s not uncommon for me to determine that a case that isn’t right for my firm.
There can be incredibly complicated legal issues that no one attorney can be an expert on. But once I have identified a tricky legal issue that is outside of my experience, often I’d be happy to refer that case out to the right lawyer if it is simple and efficient to do so.
And sometimes I just don’t have the capacity at my firm to take on a client who needs urgent and extensive legal help.
I would love to have a networked system of rapid referrals in a peer to peer platform that simplifies what I do on an ad hoc basis. I am regularly reaching out to my network of attorneys in Massachusetts to refer cases. And since lawyers already understand and use referrals regularly, the financial incentives are already built into standard legal referral practices.
This App would need to have:
- A managed list of Attorneys with whom I have a level of trust and approved.
- The very specific case types they are interested in, and their direct experience in those cases.
- Current calendar available open dates matched with courts they service.
For example, I got a call at 7:30 in the morning from someone who needs a lawyer for an arraignment on a warrant in an hour and a half in the Fall River District Court. Who do I know who is good, open, and nearby, or already planning to be in that court this morning, and has the capacity to take on a new client immediately?
The networking value of these connections should be obvious. There are certainly many lawyers who would love this case, but I want to connect this lead with someone I trust right now.
This app would have a component of very high-value networking, and crowdsourcing the best attorney. Lawyers looking for clients are going to want to be connected to lawyers like me who are regularly referring cases.
What do you think? Would this app work for you? What would you like to see in it? And who is going to build it?
I would love to hear any comments or thoughts on this from other attorneys.