Mentioned in the National Post

Many thanks go out to Drew Hasselback of the National Post for mentioning us in his article about de-lawyering entitled “Use this trend to get your lawyer to reduce their fees“.  Here’s the article in full:

Drew Hasselback, “Use this trend to get your lawyer to reduce fees”, National Post, 17 June 2013.

I came across an interesting word the other day. De-lawyering.

Most lawyers — particularly those outside the boundaries of Toronto’s financial district — recognize that the legal profession has priced itself beyond the reach of the middle class. Lawyers are usually much better at talking about the legal industry’s problems than at solving them. So I tend to pay attention whenever lawyers toss around a concept that might actually emerge as a solution to the problem of access to justice. One such idea is enabling clients to tap a legal service or product without the help of a lawyer. Hence the word, de-lawyering.

I was introduced to the word by a couple of members of the Canadian Bar Association. It’s one of the many concepts that the national lawyers’ group is considering as part of a project called the CBA Legal Futures Initiative. Teams of lawyers are collecting ideas that the CBA hopes will help the legal profession transform itself in the face of economic, technological and demographic pressures.

I spoke about the initiative with Fred Headon, CBA vice-president and chair of the project, and Allan Fineblit, chief executive of the Law Society of Manitoba. They describe a project that has many moving parts, one of which is access to justice. “We would hope that the outcomes of the Futures Initiative would reduce costs of legal services,” Mr. Headon says.

How so? The CBA recognizes that new lawyers enter practice with far too few business skills, Mr. Fineblit explains. The project is looking at how to teach new lawyers to know their business well enough that they can charge flat rates for basic services, rather than rely on the open-ended economics of billable hours or contingency fees. “On the training front, we can do some basic things, such as teaching lawyers cost-benefit analysis, project management and business skills,” Mr. Fineblit says.

But there’s also that de-lawyering concept. It’s early days. The project is at least a year away from publishing any concrete solutions or recommendations. But it’s astounding to see lawyers even talking about de-lawyering as an option that’s on the table. A lot of lawyers will cringe at mention of the word. It’s like fingernails on the blackboard to them.

Yet de-lawyering is already happening. Paralegals are an option for clients wishing to pursue matters in small claims court. And for years, you’ve always been able to buy pre-made legal documents, such as wills, at the bookstore. Now that business is moving online, with websites such as Dynamic Legal Forms or My Legal Briefcase.

Businesses such as these are based on an open secret, the use of what lawyers called precedents. You might see this word used to refer to court decisions that establish important legal points, but it’s also what lawyers call the various pre-written legal documents they have stored in their computers. When a client comes in with a specific need, they rarely draft documents entirely from scratch. Instead, they often just call up the precedent that fits the bill, then make whatever modifications are needed to meet a client’s needs.

De-lawyering has an important flaw. Bypass lawyers, and you miss out on the legal advice. That’s the value-add that lawyers have on offer. You might be ignoring that advice at your peril. Saving the bucks could be a false economy.

But here’s my takeaway. A shift in bargaining power is taking place. Online services are putting those basic legal documents in the hands of clients. Lawyers recognize this — that’s why we’re seeing things like the CBA Legal Futures Initiative. Meanwhile, legal consumers should embrace their rising bargaining power. Don’t stop using lawyers. Instead, make them adjust their fees to your needs. Remind them that they’re not the only game in town. De-lawyering is out there. Use it to your advantage.

Drew Hasselback, Legal Post Editor, is a lawyer called to the Bar of Ontario. His Legal Tender column appears once a month in FP Entrepreneur.

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