SEMA News—December 2019
Your Virtual Lawyer Will See You Now
Fed up with high attorney fees, many businesses are turning to less-expensive virtual online legal services.
Businesses are realizing significant savings by securing their legal advice virtually—over the web—rather than meeting with attorneys who charge expensive fees by the hour.
In practice, getting virtual legal services often translates into working with online service providers who provide legal templates designed for basic business agreements. Some of those basic agreements have an extremely reasonable price: free. Others run $7 and up.
Instead of paying for a pricey lawyer, for example, you can establish an LLC for your company online, formalize a business license or register a trademark—for a song. Those kinds of savings can be especially attractive to cash-strapped small businesses.
“Small-business owners now have unprecedented access to affordable technology-enabled solutions that are better suited for their most common legal needs,” said John Suh, CEO of LegalZoom (www.legalzoom.com), another provider of virtual legal services.
Granted, there’s less peace of mind snagging the proper forms for a legal agreement off a website as opposed to sitting down with a lawyer who is willing to put his or her reputation behind your business agreement, but more than a few businesses are willing to live with that risk, apparently. For example, a December 2018 Harris Poll of 2,000 U.S. adults found that 76% of respondents aged 18–44 were willing to use online legal services if that meant they could save money on their legal needs (www.tinyurl.com/prweb-com-releases). And 65% of those age 55 and older surveyed said that they’d consider online legal services if they were less expensive than a traditional lawyer.
There’s also some big money behind virtual lawyering. In July 2018, for example, LegalZoom secured $500 million in venture capital from Francisco Partners and GPI Capital to expand its already significant presence in the online legal services market. That’s a lot of clams in anyone’s world.
Given all the frothy interest, you’ll at least want to take a look at what the online virtual legal services have to offer. Below is a representative sampling.
RocketLawyer (www.rocketlawyer.com; costs vary): RocketLawyer is the kind of one-stop legal shopping service that makes traditional lawyers gulp. You can choose from hundreds of legal documents to formalize basic business agreements without the help of a lawyer.
Technically, the service bills itself as an information and software service online and flatly states that it does not offer legal advice or representation with distribution of its legal forms, but businesses looking for more peace of mind can instead connect via the site to ask a simple question of a lawyer or schedule a 30-min.consultation on a specific matter for an
RocketLawyer also offers service discounts for users who become “premium members” at $39.99 per month. With premium membership, users can create an unlimited amount of legal documents, get answers to legal questions from an attorney, and have an attorney review documents. There is also a discount for members looking to hire an attorney.
LegalZoom (www.legalzoom.com; starts at $29): LegalZoom is another online legal documents service. It offers 35 services specifically geared for businesses, including basic legal agreements, incorporation and trademark registration. You can try out LegalZoom for free by completing a questionnaire for a specific legal service and then decide whether or not you want to purchase the legal documents LegalZoom generates for you.
Nolo (www.nolo.com; prices vary): A clearinghouse for all things do-it-yourself legal, Nolo is a great stop for getting a legal problem solved for free or nearly free. All told, the Nolo network of websites consists of more than 50 web properties offering advice, apps and downloadable legal forms on specific legal topics.
You can find plenty of documents there that you can use for legal agreements, and the firm offers its Nolo’s Plain English Law Dictionary for free. The dictionary features nearly 4,000 legal terms defined in plain English. You can also find pointers to lawyers on Nolo who specialize in specific facets of business law, and there are free articles on the site offering legal advice as well as e-books for purchase that delve into very detailed and specific topics, such as Chapter 7 and 13 bankruptcy.
Shake (www.shakelaw.com/shake-apps; free): Shake is perfect for businesses looking to quickly finalize a basic agreement. The app offers a number of common business agreements in template form. Deals are made after both parties sign a personalized template agreement using their smartphones. You can also get your agreement confirmed using conventional digital signatures.
All of the templates on Shake are created by licensed attorneys and are specially designed to capture important agreement terms concisely and in plain English. Shake also enables you to add your own wording to agreements—although that could be risky, given that not everyone thinks like an attorney when writing their own contract terms.
LawDepot (www.lawdepot.com; $24 per month): This is another purveyor of do-it-yourself legal documents and templates with more than 10 years of experience. You can try out LawDepot free for seven days.
Still other services of this kind include BizFilings (www.bizfilings.com) and USLegalForms (www.uslegalforms.com).
LawZam (www.lawzam.com; free): Instead of offering legal forms online, LawZam pairs businesses looking for lawyers. LawZam invites businesses with legal problems to visit its site and post legal questions, which its lawyers answer with a free initial consultation. For additional services, you negotiate with an attorney who appeals to you. The app comes complete with video conferencing, so both parties can get a good look at one another before they agree to do business.
The best part is that LawZam is absolutely free for both lawyers and consumers to use, since the app is designed to make money from advertising.
“We are now in a world where people can consult by video conference with attorneys on their mobile devices for free, virtually anywhere,” said Claudio Dunkelman, LawZam co-founder.
Ask a Lawyer: Legal Help (www.askalawyer.com): This is another brokerage that offers businesses the ability to get preliminary legal advice from attorneys free of charge. Users initially message attorneys via the application and also chat live. If they like what they hear, they negotiate with the attorney for more in-depth service.
For attorneys, the app represents an opportunity to screen potential clients, and essentially replaces the “free consultation” many lawyers have often offered prospective clients for centuries.
Priori Legal (www.priorilegal.com): Priori Legal is also a brokerage that pairs businesses with lawyers. There, users answer basic questions about the legal service they need and are then paired with a number of lawyers best suited to handle the task—which includes the fees they charge. Users then pick the attorney who works best for them and schedule a free 30-min. consultation.
PhoneView (www.ecamm.com/mac/phoneview; $29.95): This is an extremely specialized app for Mac products that enables businesses involved in legal disputes to unearth printouts of relevant texts that are buried in their iPhones. PhoneView essentially allows you to view, save and print out all of your iPhone and iPad messages and WhatsApp messages onto a Mac computer. Messages are exported as PDF files, and voicemails and videos on your phone can also be exported to your PC.
Joe Dysart is an internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan.