In a previous post on Ambitious Startup Ideas I mentioned an example of ‘preventative law’ in relation the Cisco in the U.S.;
The Group Head of Legal in Cisco makes a simple proposition to those who want to provide litigation advice. He offers a fixed sum up front at the start of the year. (lets say hypothetically it’s €1 million). He tells the firm that they can keep the full €1 million if Cisco don’t get sued for the whole year. If litigation costs more than €1 million, tough, that’s now the law firms problem. All of a sudden the law firm has gone from hourly billers to risk managers for Cisco. They review contracts and ensure compliance. They are as worried as Cisco about getting sued, if not more so.
Clients change Lawyers.
Some Lawyers will charge more when they know that you have no choice and very little time to get help in order to avoid a legal dispute or complete a deal. When legal work is re-active, clients are always on the back foot. Like car insurance and medical treatment, you literally have to get it done or risk very serious consequences. Happily both in medicine and law things are starting to change. If legal work is essentially re-active at the moment, what are the ways that small companies and individuals can change lawyers behavior and lower legal fees?
1. Ask for a Free Legal Health Check
People have the same reservations about getting a legal health check as they do about getting a health check from the GP; you sometimes don’t want to hear what is wrong for fear of the impact and cost. Many people now go online and self diagnose and sites such as WebMD have become hugely popular for assessing symptoms. Going to the doctor every time you have any symptoms is time consuming and expensive. Services such as fullhealth.ie are starting to provide more competitive, preventative options that as Chris Dixon says, Give away the Diagnostic, sell the Remedy.
How would this work in law? Could you answer a few questions and get a review without feeling forced to pay up front? In his excellent book, The End of Lawyers, Oxford Professor Richard Susskind suggests a number of ways that this can be achieved and we at Access Legal are working on something to help this process. I believe that combining technology, with some kind of in person advice if needed is what is required.
2. Tell your TD you want legal fees to be public information.
I believe that this is the one thing that would help improve the legal market most. While some claim that private contracts deserve to remain private I generally only hear this from wealthy lawyers. Even if every firm only had to publish their average hourly rate(excluding trainees) the situation would be much improved and clients would be anonymous. The general public as well as small practitioners are keen on this change and I hope to see it implemented in the new Legal Services Bill.
3. Make many enquiries and compare
While price comparison sites don’t really have the scale to work in Ireland, it is well worth contacting 3-5 providers near you in order to get a range of quotes. If solicitors won’t give you an estimate, this is a warning sign. I often tell clients to go and ask a big law firm for a quote and we’ll do the same job half of what they quote. Do not be afraid to push for specifics.
4. Ask around, off and online
Sites such as ratemysolicitor.com were the first version of ratings for professionals. It was essentially the wild west, full of defamatory statements and was rightly closed down. I hope that a system that allows good lawyers to be rated and respond to criticism emerges in the way it has with Avvo.com in the US. LinkedIn can provide some further help but it is still hard to get an idea of who lawyers have worked with, what their reputation is and what fixed fee work they do. Discussions on boards.ie are a start but I hope that this will improve over the next couple of years but there is plenty room for improvement.
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