The Creative Coupling of Rocket Lawyer and ABA

Joint Venture Reflects Legal Industry’s Need for Innovation

Creative Pairing
Kronick/E+/Getty Images.

Lawyers skeptical that do-it-yourselfers are encroaching on their turf need just whisper to themselves sweet somethings like LegalZoom or Avvo or Nolo or Rocket Lawyer. We can scoff all we like at the ​Uberization of the industry and at the increased demand for à la carte services, just like the taxi drivers did, just like the medical industry did (when was the last time you went to the doctor without diagnosing yourself first thanks to some help from the good old Internet?), just like publishers did (can’t get your masterpiece published?

Go directly to the reader via an ​e-book or a blog), just like education did (no time for a degree? Take a few MOOCs).

Everyone, it seems, sees increased competition from entities that didn’t even exist 15 years ago, or 10, or five. At a moment when lawyers are looking over their shoulders to see who’s about to overtake them, it may be a little surprising to see a “let’s be friends” business deal develop between an Internet venture and a trade association whose membership includes a whole lot of traditional legal services providers, historically called lawyers.

But, as the saying almost goes, necessity is the mother of innovation. The legal industry’s evolution is inescapable. At a juncture when the DIY legal movement is indeed upending the field at a time when prospective clients are seemingly more willing to pursue affordable legal services by purchasing them in smaller bundles, in an era when lower-tier law schools need to contemplate their own viability, and in an environment where card-carrying J.D.s are having difficulty finding jobs and/or work, an interesting collaboration between the American Bar Association and online legal services platform Rocket Lawyer has developed.

In a joint venture announced on Oct. 1, 2015, the two entities are working together on a service called ABA Law Connect, through which small businesses can pose a legal question or two to a member of the American Bar Association and get an answer for a very reasonable $4.95. The lawyer and the small business representative can pursue a more traditional legal relationship should they so choose.

Initially, the service will just link lawyers in California, Illinois, and Pennsylvania to small businesses via Rocket Lawyer’s cloud-based platform. ABA and Rocket Lawyer have a significant presence in these areas. “California, Pennsylvania, and Illinois are states where Rocket Lawyer has a strong customer base,” explains Rocket Lawyer General Counsel Alon Rotem. “California is Rocket Lawyer’s home state as we are based in San Francisco. The ABA is headquartered in Chicago, Ill. and has a strong presence in Pennsylvania as well,” he continues.

Just under five bucks is a pretty attractive price point if you happen to be a consumer of legal services. It sure beats the $100 or more initial consultation fees that are charged by some lawyers.

“By providing a low-cost, highly accessible online avenue for small business owners to get answers to basic legal questions, we hope to improve access to legal services while simultaneously offering our members potential new opportunities,” said ABA President Paulette Brown at the time the venture was announced. That $4.95 figure was not reached randomly. “We set a price based on market research we have conducted and did not want ​the price to be a barrier to small businesses looking for affordable legal advice.

This is a normal activity as we regularly price test all of our products and services,” Rotem says.

Market research is a phrase soothing to the business world’s ears and is an activity some of us would like to see a lot more of in the legal universe. In this quickly changing environment, lawyers really do need to know what the legal market will bear, what it needs, what it wants, and how it wants to procure legal assistance.

The ABA–Rocket Lawyer arrangement came about after Rocket Lawyer founder and CEO Charley Moore talked at a legal conference about his company’s “modern delivery of legal services,” as Rotem puts it. Not long afterward, Rotem recalls, ABA reached out to talk about possible collaboration.

Lawyers who happen to be ABA members in California, Illinois, and Pennsylvania are likely to appreciate this mutually beneficial agreement, but others should also take note.

In this new way of doing business, lawyers, firms, and even consumers should think about how to provide or obtain legal services in better, more efficient, less costly — yet still viable — ways. Books, newspapers, taxi service, education, and hotel rooms are all more accessible than they once were. Legal services can be, too.