As we built the agenda for this year’s Elevate by LegalShield conference, legal plans are front and center, but we again included innovation sessions because lawyers need help adapting technology to a focus on client satisfaction and firm efficiency. To that end, Elevate 2019 will again include Tech Talks from some of our seasoned legal technologists, plus our other vendors will be present to discuss how technology can help.
We asked a few of our speakers to provide a view on their challenges in the practice of law today and how they see legal plans as a solution to the access to justice gap.
What do you believe are the top challenges in law practice today?
Greg May of Dubail Judge, P.C.: The legal industry has always been conservative and slow to embrace change. This tendency has become even more acute in these times of fast-paced change in technology, social interaction, and cultural norms. Attorneys must either embrace technology or risk being replaced by it. The need, perceived or otherwise, to retain a lawyer to complete routine tasks is steadily disappearing with more people being comfortable with the do-it-yourself process or AI. Attorneys must come up with new ways to deliver legal services quickly and cheaply so as to not price themselves out of the reach of the majority of people who are facing legal issues.
David E. Cowan of Parker Stanbury, LLP: The top challenge is battling expectations. There are so many sources available online that it can be difficult to determine which sources are factually based and which sources are merely opinion or conjecture. The attorney must address these and be as transparent as possible so that the client understands what is going on.
Paul Scarsella of Maguire, Schnieder, Hassay: Balancing the time needed to maintain your knowledge base in a rapidly changing legal field and provide the appropriate customer relations experience clients are demanding. The practice of law has become much more specialized in recent years and staying on top of that in your field of practice can be very demanding but it is necessary to provide clients the best possible representation.
Steven Weinberger and Michael Medina, Partners at Davis Miles McGuire Gardner, PLLC: Competition for business; in-house counsel driving down costs of defense; continued difficulties with medical negligence cases in terms of statutory caps on damages, predominant jury verdicts for the defense, and the high costs of prosecuting such cases.
How do you see legal plans in the future of the industry?
Greg May: Legal plans are one of the best ways to make access to legal services affordable and efficient. Through economies of scale, a law firm is able to deliver legal services to the specific plan member at the time they need it because (at LegalShield) they are being paid based on all members of the plan, not any one single member/client. Legal plans free up attorneys from the high costs of marketing, client acquisition, and client retention and allow the attorneys to focus on delivering quality legal services in a timely manner. Less money spent on marketing and client acquisition means more money to spend on improving the quality of legal services for the plan members.
David E. Cowan: The plans also create a mechanism to access vetted attorneys. Just because an attorney passes the bar and provides a free consultation does not mean that the consultation is what the individual needs. By evaluating and vetting the providing attorneys involved in the plans, the legal plans improve access to attorneys who will be able to explain the matter and, at the very least, point the individual in the correct direction.
Paul Scarsella: The legal plan allows access to legal services which might otherwise not be available. The idea of calling a lawyer or a law firm can be daunting due to the perceived expense and intricacies but a legal plan allows members instant access to an attorney at an affordable cost.
Steven Weinberger and Michael Medina: When the consumer gains an understanding of the benefits provided by even the most basic plan, they are cost-effective, pay for themselves, and provide an insurance type benefit covering unforeseen legal events where the advice or guidance of a lawyer may be helpful or necessary.
The above comment brings up the notion that legal services are most often thought of as reactive, usually to an unplanned event. With legal insurance, you can also access preventative measures, which again helps the client avoid problems altogether, like those that arise from not having a will or business contracts.
Prepaid legal plans have been around for 45 years and therefore are not necessarily a new way of addressing access to justice. However, combined with technology, we are excited to see what the future brings. Lisa Pansini, Creative Manager at Rocket Matter cautions, “Implement technology that will make your life easier. There are many kinds of tech “solutions” out there, but if they are too complicated to use and/or implement, they may not be worth it in the long run.”
Paul adds, “Technology is the key because it can make the interaction easier and more affordable. Emails can be responded to any time as can be a text message allowing for quicker interaction with clients. Having a client interface as part of the website which allows for real-time interaction with the support team makes sure the clients feel as important as they truly are to the firm.”
A final comment by David, “Access to technology increases the access to information.” Ultimately that information or knowledge is powerful to the average American seeking justice, legal services, or education.