This is another post, in a series of blog posts, that are designed to help consumers understand how Web sites in the legal industry work and the value they offer.
BeiBei Que, the co-founder of AttorneyFee.com, calls the site a Kayak for Legal Fees. Like Kayak, which is a price comparison engine for air plane fares, AttorneyFee.com’s web crawlers search the web for law firms that advertise their legal fees, and then display these these law firms by type of subject matter and location.
Legal Fee Transparency
This is an interesting concept because it enables a consumer or small business searching for a lawyer to more easily compare legal fees for typical transactions, or to compare hourly rates, between lawyers for similar types of work. The site is going to be more useful for consumers and small business than it will be for major corporations purchasing legal services from very large law firms.
On the other hand, I can see law firms creating feature rich service packages for the legal work involved in a hi-tech start-up, or a Series A financing. This is reasonably complex work that still lends itself to a fixed price. Taking the mystery out of the pricing for this kind of work would reduce the friction that it takes to do an initial financing, probably expanding the market for this kind of legal work.
Many lawyers think that advertising their legal fees is unprofessional, but the reality is that consumer behavior has changed dramatically because of the Web. Consumers are now accustomed to doing price comparisons over the Web, and for certain kinds of transactions, particular more routine transactions that are very similar in nature, price is a factor because the skills to generate certain kinds of work are comparable from lawyer to lawyer.
For example, you don’t have to be a “rocket scientist,” or be a “bet your company lawyer” to represent a client in an uncontested divorce, so why should one lawyer charge $2,000.00 and another $350.00. Consumer’s generally don’t know any better, so they choose the first lawyer they come upon and have no basis for comparing the work of one lawyer with another. Lawyers are notoriously reluctant to quote fees. Often you have to come in for a”Consultation” and then the lawyer drops a fee on you. This will change as more lawyers set-up shop on the Web as virtual law firm and charge fixed fees for limited legal services, (See a listing of fixed fee, online law firms at the SmartLegalForms Law Firm Directory.)
The impact of this kind of a web site will be to flatten or compress legal fees for similar transactions. But in my view this is a good thing as transparency in any business, in my opinion is a good thing, and the pricing for certain kinds of transactions is much too high for what you get.
Consumer’s are aware of pricing from non-lawyer document preparation sites, where for example the going rate seems to be around $250.00-$299.00 for an uncontested divorce, but no legal advice is included. The same price clarity has not been true of law firms. (Why anyone would pay $299.00 for a set of uncontested divorce forms without any legal advice, with you can purchase the same forms for $59.00 is beyond me, but that’s the subject of another blog post.).
The AttorneyFee.com Web site is simple to navigate. Register, search by matter and location and a list of lawyers is generated in your state displaying the prices for certain types of work.
The site is evolving and adding new features monthly. At my last look, the site had integrated reviews and profiles from AVVO – the sometimes controversial lawyer rating site. This makes a lot of sense as the Web site have the same goal – helping consumers make more informed choices about selecting a lawyer.
There are some areas of the site that need improvement.
First, the site could have more detailed information about the services that a law firm offers in relationship to a price. For example, displaying the fact that one law firm charges $299.00 for an uncontested divorce, and another charges $1,500.00 would be more helpful if the information were also available that in the lower priced situation the party represents them selves at the divorce hearing, and in the higher priced situation, the attorney represent that represented party at the hearing. The additional information would enable a more accurate comparison — comparing apples to apples, rather than apples to oranges.
A second issue, related to the first, is that the site lumps all legal services into a single category and doesn’t give due recognition to the new concept of “unbundled” or limited legal services — a fast emerging approach to pricing legal services for a fixed fee.
Despite these limitations, AttorneyFee.com is making a major contribution towards providing a visible data base about how much it costs to solve legal problems. Data by itself can be a powerful incentive to rationalizing the pricing of legal services for consumers and small business. No legal Web site has attempted to offer comprehensive pricing information over a range of legal matters. So this is a first and a major advancement towards peeling back the Wizard’s black curtain.
I hope AttorneyFee.com find’s a firm footing as it explores a way to make money from the site. The work they are doing has value but it comes at a cost that must be covered.