Google Ventures invests in Rocket Lawyer: my views…

Thanks go out to Mark Robins of Lawyer Locate and Omar Ha-Redeye for bringing to my attention the news that Google Venture recently infused $18.5-million into Rocket Lawyer. Now everyone wants to know what I’m thinking. So here it is:

  • Rocket Lawyer has been around in the U.S. since 2008 (about the same time I was putting this website together).
  • Rocket Lawyer offers automated legal forms, legal information, lawyer assistance through LexisNexis and (much like this website), and legal plans (kind of like pre-paid legal).
  • In October 2010, Rocket Lawyer launched its “dynamic Legal Health Score” (a kind of free legal health checkup).
    • I chuckled when I saw the the word “dynamic”. Why? Well, because I had previously come up with a Free Legal Health Checkup in September 2009. I am not accusing Rocket Lawyer of copying me; heck, I probably copied the idea from Richard Susskind anyways. But I did try their application and it seemed eerily similar to mine. I can only assume that they designed their legal health checkup based on what they saw here. As they say: “Imitation is the best form of flattery”. In any event, I don’t think there should be a monopoly on legal health checkup applications. Rather, more people should be educated about their legal rights and health in the same manner as they would find out their physical health by going to see a doctor. So keep up the good work, Rocket Lawyer (and others looking to come out with their own version)!
  • The infusion of cash by private or public investment (LegalZoom will be a public company soon) into a legal services company is a good thing. It will help improve access to justice for those who cannot afford a lawyer. It will also help connect people looking for lawyers with the right lawyer who specializes in their field. Finally, it will allow the amount of content (e.g. legal forms, legal information) to grow so that more people can protect themselves and their loved ones. Remember: as Richard Susskind points out in his book, “The End of Lawyers”, access to justice involves educating people about their legal rights, preventing disputes before they arise (e.g. by having legal agreements in place to manage the parties’ expectations), and resolving existing disputes in a convenient and cost-effective manner.

Now, as virtual law practitoner Stephanie Kimbro pointed out in a recent blog (again, thanks to Omar for pointing this out), there are possible dangers that need to be reflected upon whenever non-lawyers get involved in delivering legal services. Many of these dangers relate to the legal profession (e.g. lawyer ratings, online legal marketing, etc.). No doubt, traditional lawyers may feel threatened by being at the power of non-lawyers when it comes to marketing their services online and getting clients (will those $89 a month fees that Rocket Lawyers charges result in clients? Will those fees increase? Are those fees legal? – are all some of the types of questions that traditional lawyers will ask).

But I’m not overly concerned with the dangers to lawyers (of which I am one) – because I’ve been saying for a long time that lawyers need to adapt or fizzle out. Rather, my concern with non-lawyers getting involved in delivering legal services revolves around protecting the public from the unauthorized practice of law (which I’ve previously written about on this blog). So how can the public be protected when non-lawyers are delivering legal services? Well, among other things, non-lawyer legal services providers can:

  • try to ensure that the legal forms and information they provide are based on local laws;
  • educate their users (e.g. we use video tutorials and comprehensive written guides) about the legal issues they should be aware of when entering into these types of agreements or using these types of forms;
  • warn users that they (i.e. the non-lawyer legal services providers) are not a law firm and do not have a solicitor-client relationship with them; and
  • offer users the option to seek out a lawyer to review their work or get advice from.

As for me and what Google Venture’s investment in Rocket Lawyer will mean, I can honestly say that this is good news all around. Perhaps other players will want to get involved in the legal services industry. They’ll look around. They’ll see LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer and a few smaller guys. The opportunities to invest may be limited. Surely, with enough money, they could start from scratch and try to build what LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer, and Dynamic Legal Forms has taken years to develop (e.g. content, social media, public awareness, etc.). They may even gaze northwards, towards Canada (our beautiful country). And perhaps they may see this website as the way to go (there’s only a handful of companies in Canada that do this) . But until then, I will continue to do my best to make sure that access to justice is improved through technology – for example, by offering affordable legal forms with video tutorials and written guides, offering a free legal health checkup, giving away tons of free legal information, and connecting people to the right lawyer.

What’s in store for us, you ask? Well, since we are “Dynamic” and we have to live up to that name, how about we:

  • Offer legal form packages at a discount of what it would cost to buy each individual legal form separately;
  • Offer a subscription package to ALL of our legal forms;
  • Build up our already-impressive database of legal forms (we had 19 legal form packages last year for only Ontario and we now offer over 190 legal form packages for most of Canada!); and
  • Continue to market our legal forms online and offline.

This is all coming out in September, so keep an eye out!

By the way, a few months ago, I reached out to Google for private investment, but I think Canada is too small a market for them at the present time (presumably, they had their sights on Rocket Lawyer, so a deal with us wouldn’t have been good timing).

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