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Hire a lawyer, or pay a nominal amount to an online legal services company for a do it yourself solution? (Disclaimer: that's a fellow Thomson Reuters/FindLaw product.)
It's a decision that many consumers face, and the bad news is, many are choosing the website over the lawyer. Estate planning attorneys know exactly what we're talking about, though online form peddlers exist for a variety of legal tasks.
Why the website? Cost and convenience. And for someone with few assets, and few heirs, quite honestly, a website might be a better option. Other people figure that a website template is good enough for now, and that eventually they'll get a lawyer to draft their "real" documents.
How do you compete? Or better yet, how do you coexist?
In case you need a boost of self-confidence and assurance, Thomson Reuters's Small Law Firms Blog has a post on the various reasons why we're better than an inanimate website.
The short list? We offer better guarantees (and malpractice insurance), we can handle more complex matters, we can fight in court to uphold the documents (beat that, website!) and of course, we are warm cuddly humans.
Of course, clients don't think about that. They think, "Hmm, I don't have time to go to a lawyer during the 9-5 window. Plus, this is cheaper."
Fair enough. Drafting a will or a contract requires your time and attention. How much time and attention does it take to review a simple document, however? Maybe it's time to consider offering an audit service: you review that auto-generated will and spend an hour with the client discussing any major flaws and recommended solutions.
Do it at a reduced rate ($100 or so) and you'll lure them in the door. Once they see how inadequate that form is for managing their $1,000,000 estate, you may end up with a new paying client. And if the form does meet their needs, your honesty and personality may build goodwill for future tasks or referrals.
How do these online services snag so many customers at such a low price? Efficiency.
If you're still drafting each will or contract, document by document, in Microsoft Word, cutting and pasting appropriate clauses, perhaps it's time to invest in document building software.
Our corporate cousin, WestLaw Doc & Form Builder is one solution. I've fiddled with it, and it's pretty nifty. Plus, you know WestLaw is going to be kept up to date. ProDoc is another Thomson Reuters product that is apparently much more robust, though it is limited to California, Florida, and Texas. The ABA has a much more comprehensive list, though I have not personally used any of them.
Increase your efficiency. Charge less. Churn out more product.
And if that "race to the bottom" sounds uninspiring, perhaps you should leave the low-end market to the online providers and target the higher-end clients, such as those whose estates, assets, and family fractures make their estate plan complicated.
Do you compete or coexist with online services? Is the race to the bottom endangering your practice? Share your thoughts with us on LinkedIn.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.