In Canada, Axess offers legal services in Wal-Marts
What may seem like a far-fetched idea is a reality up north. Axess Law is operating in 10 Wal-Mart stores in Toronto. And the firm is growing.
“We started off as a regular law firm,” says Mark Morris, a partner and co-founder of Axess Law. “We decided to use a method similar to accountants, insurers, mortgage brokers, dentists and doctors and engage in retail space. Actually, all professionals are there except lawyers.
“With retail, we attract volume. We get the benefits of volume and have efficient workflow.”
As the legal profession continues to go through transformation, Axess Law is making waves in the legal world with its perspective on reaching the public.
TAKE IT TO THE PEOPLE
Axess Law began in 2013 as a typical law firm. Morris, along with co-founder Lena Koke, decided to reach consumers in a different way by opening up their offices in Wal-Mart stores.
“Many law firms are not happy with any development,” Morris says. “When people come and see what we are doing, they see that new ways of practice are possible.
“As a profession, we’re not covering our mandate to provide competent service to all Ontarians,” he says. “Sixty percent of people don’t have a will because the process is too expensive. Wouldn’t it be better to have a competent lawyer doing wills according to best practices and the way the law society dictates?”
The firm operates using cloud computing technology so that lawyers at different locations can access client files easily. The firm focuses on high-volume transactions, inclu-ding wills and real estate.
“We’re at a point where in the average family case, most people are self-represented,” says Morris. “In the Canadian context, we’ve done 25,000 wills alone and we haven’t had a complaint. Our wills have been tested and probated.”
Axess Law isn’t the only firm operating in a retail environment. LegalZoom has partnered with Sam’s Club to offer legal services to Sam’s Club members at a rate discounted from 20 to 25 percent. Members can access the LegalZoom estate planning bundle for $299, including attorney consultations.
“LegalZoom is committed to making the law more accessible to families and small businesses,” says chief marketing officer Laura Goldberg. “By teaming up with Sam’s Club, we’re able to reach their network of traditionally brick-and-mortar customers, and give more small businesses access to the legal solutions they need.”
While Axess Law and LegalZoom are in the retail world, they are within the ethical scope of operating a law firm. Axess Law rents retail space from Wal-Mart, so the law firm remains independent from the store.
“With retail space within space, there’s a risk of in-person solici-tation,” says Keith Swisher, an ethics counsel and University of Arizona law professor. “If [the Wal-Mart greeter] wants to take a break, you can’t really talk to the greeter about the law practice, or worse, fill in for the greeter. The lawyer must remain in the lawyer’s space, not solicit or grab the consumer.”
Firms like Axess Law are under the same ethical obligations as other law firms in shopping malls and other retail environments.
“I don’t think there’s a consideration that rises to a material limitation,” says Swisher. “There shouldn’t be any arrangement of splitting fees. My understanding of this aspect of LegalZoom is that it’s a legal services plan, somewhat like legal insurance. I’ve seen such plans on a smaller scale before, and they do not necessarily run afoul of the ethical rules.”
Meanwhile, Axess Law is expanding quickly, opening new offices every two to three months on average.
“It is our passionate belief that lawyers should be leading legal service delivery into the new millennium,” Morris says. “Lawyers have to figure out a better way to deliver services. If we don’t, others will.”
This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “Wal-Mart at Law: In Canada, Axess means legal service in a big box.”