As readers of this blog no doubt understand, technology has fundamentally changed the ways humans live their lives. It reshaped the way people communicate with one another and how organizations disseminate information. It continues to push through medical advancements so we can better understand our bodies, and it facilitates advancements in physics so we can better understand the universe.
And technology has also touched nearly every industry. It wasn't so long ago that your morning routine might have been to read a physical newspaper, grab a coffee down the road and wait in the rain to hail a taxi. But technology transformed each of those experiences. Now, you might flip open a news app, order a coffee for delivery at home and tap a rideshare logo when it's time to commute.
It's little surprise, then, that online legal services are gaining popularity. Increasingly, clients want accessible legal services that simplify lines of communication. They want simplicity and transparency. And they want affordability.
In this article, let's explore the meteoric rise of online legal services. What spurred it on, what stoked the fire, and what do these (relatively) new businesses have to offer?
The Beginnings: Consumers Change the Way They Search
According to Pew Research, more than 75% of consumers searching for legal assistance turn to online resources for help. It wasn't always that way, though.
Over the last two decades, consumers have changed how they approach all services and products - not just online legal services. Rather than rely on word-of-mouth, or advice from a handful of newspaper reviewers, more consumers now prefer to do their own digging. They sift through Google user reviews for indications of quality, and price-compare over various websites.
This shift in how consumers search services undoubtedly impacted the rise of online legal services. But to what extent? And to what extent is the nature of the service itself a motivating factor?
Too Great to Ignore: The Value Propositions
While shifts in the way people search for services certainly played a role in the popularity of online legal services, you can't discount the services themselves.
The "value propositions" many online law firms offer - that is, their positive distinguishing characteristics - are indeed attractive. Here are just a few benefits of online legal services:
Transparency: Compared to the "opaque" pricing of many brick-and-mortar firms, online firms offer flat, predetermined rates, allowing consumers to budget for their legal expenses easily.
Cost-Effectiveness: Per the market research cited above, online law firms tend to "price their services lower."
Ease of communication: Many consumers find it easier to communicate with their lawyers in a digital space. Consumers do not have to make in-person visits to get legal advice.
Tech-friendly: In an increasingly plugged-in world, more consumers prefer doing business digitally. They can sign documents online, collate their paperwork and communication on the computer, and access legal documents wherever they are.
It's plain to see that, in the process of moving to a digital space, online law firms addressed many of the pain points clients experienced with brick-and-mortar firms. These value propositions allowed online law firms to take a novel idea - getting legal advice online - and turn it into a valuable, salable and competitive resource.
The Pandemic Changes Everything
Sometimes, consumer patterns change slowly - people take time to adapt to new technologies, new ways of doing business. Other times, the world forces consumers to change. And fast.
In March 2020, COVID-19 was labelled a pandemic. In response, governments worldwide opted to enforce stay-at-home rules and physical distancing policies. And yet, people still needed legal help. They still needed to sign wills, file for divorces, buy real estate or refinance their mortgages. After all, life goes on.
The contactless, virtual systems that online lawyers had built all of a sudden came in very handy. Clients could receive the same professional service they got from a brick-and-mortar lawyer from the safety and comfort of their homes. Moreover, they could save money - which was immensely important for families experiencing pandemic-related income disruptions.
Although COVID-19 has slowed with the advent of new vaccines, it isn't over yet. And it will probably cast a long shadow on the way people do business - the way people choose legal services.
Expect to see online legal services continue to take the world by storm as more people a) shift the way they search for services, b) learn more about the benefits of online legal services, and c) continue to prefer contactless, safe modes of communication. The next time you need to close on a house or appoint a power of attorney, you may want to check your WIFI signal - chances are, you'll be dealing with your lawyer online.