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ABA Techshow

The Future of Law: Old-Fashioned Client Relationships and Warnings for Solos

Posted Mar 29, 2012 10:00 AM CDT
By Rachel M. Zahorsky

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New technology will drive the future of law back to the customer service era of your grandfather. However, clients are being aided by Facebook, Twitter, weblogs and reviews posted on Yelp and other social media communities as they seek to establish more personal relationships with their attorneys and increase communication—and even collaboration—on matters.

This return to a time when customers formed personal relationships with shopkeepers and service providers was a dominant theme at last night’s ABA Techshow kickoff event, LexThink.1: The Future of Law Practice. The fast-paced program was an alternative to the traditional panel presentation model; the 12 speakers had only six minutes each to make their points with slides flashing beside them at 18-second intervals.

“The more important you are to the circle of commerce, the more you are going to get sucked into the information web,” said Mark Britton, founder, CEO and president of Avvo, an online directory that rates lawyers and doctors. “People want to know about you, your practice, your partners and the services you offer. Consumers want lawyers to interact with them and have a conversation.”

In fact, 97 percent of consumers expect companies to have a robust Web presence, and many look to videos posted on YouTube and Vimeo as ways to get to know lawyers and make hiring decisions, said presenter Roe Frazer, managing director of Digomé, a company that designs Internet marketing campaigns across social media platforms.

Those lawyers that fear or fail to embrace social networks and blogs will see their business leave them for Web-based legal services companies or their practicing peers that do embrace the Net, Frazer said.

The dominance of LegalZoom—the country's largest online legal document service company—in the solo and small-firm marketplace was the elephant in the room addressed by speaker and ABA Journal Legal Rebel Richard Granat.

“In the last 18 months, I’ve seen dozens of [document automation startups] coming out of the woodwork, and the technology is getting better,” Granat said, adding that 57 percent of solo lawyers don’t have a website. Granat is founder of DirectLaw, which he describes as "a virtual law firm in a box."

“[Lawyers] have to lead, be distinct, be competitive and incorporate all strategies to define what is unique to [their] credibility and trustworthiness,” Granat said. “Our profession is endangered in terms of solos and small firms. LegalZoom is going to eat their market share for lunch.”

Other presenters included Phoenix-based flash mob lawyer Ruth Carter and ABA staff counsel Will Hornsby, who presented five outdated ethics rules that "should be incinerated."

The theory behind the six-minute format is that it's just long enough for a presenter to make the key points needed to educate and entertain an audience about a business model, new technology or whatever is on the speaker's mind. It’s also organizer Matt Homann's nod to the six-minute billing increment familiar to lawyers and vendors supporting the legal industry.

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