You may have heard the recent news about a Canadian Walmart now offering in-house legal services. Toronto lawyers Lena Koke and Mark Morris opened up Axess Law in a Toronto Walmart, offering “fast and affordable legal services to time-pressed shoppers.”
Notary services, real estate law, simple will and powers of attorney are performed on-site, allowing buyers and sellers to complete transactions any time, any day. Traffic, family law, personal injury and litigation cases are referred to other firms.
While it can be easy to make snide remarks about how Walmart is contributing to the ‘degradation of law,’ perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to judge. The services are not actually provided by Walmart. Axess is a law firm, like any other, that is simply renting out office space…which just happens to be owned by one of the largest corporations in the world.
Breaking Down Barriers to Legal Service
Along with the popular online legal help sites like LegalZoom, Axess has found a way to break down the barriers which prevent many people from seeking legal representation.
There’s no denying the inverse relationship between high legal costs and the low number of people who can actually afford these costs. Some lawyers are simply too expensive for the average person, who may not know whether they even need a lawyer in the first place.
Furthermore, Axess sees the most business Saturdays, Sundays, and weekdays between 5-8pm, capitalizing during the times most law firms are closed. High customer volume allows them to charge lower prices on service.
Let’s compare this venture to a similar scenario in the health industry, the CVS Minute Clinic. Operating on a similar model, the popular drug store also capitalized on an under-served market. Their Minute Clinic, a medical clinic inside their drugstore, treats busy people with minor health problems that can’t afford to call off work and sit in a waiting room for hours to see their normal doctor.
Walmart is simply capitalizing on a good opportunity.
A threat to traditional law firms?
The bottom line is that there is a service gap in the legal industry that needs filling and some firms are finding innovative ways to meet demand.
Walmart will not replace the full, complex needs of the entire legal market in the foreseeable future. Most lawyers are not really competing for the same customers that Walmart is trying to attract anyway. Your law firm probably offers something unique that makes you stand out from your competitors. Perhaps you serve a niche market or provide killer customer service. In this regard, you may not need to compete on price like ‘Lawmart’ does. But that is not to say that there is no room for improvement.
Traditional law offices must recognize that the old way of doing things will not sustain them forever. So while ‘Lawmart’ may not be an immediate threat, it points to trends that are.
Let’s take a look at a few ways traditional firms could probably improve their service to become more competitive.
1. Streamline production
From 1923 to 1929 Henry Ford doubled his production of the Model T while reducing its retail price by 40%. He did this by, among other things, streamlining the assembly line process. Why not streamline your assembly line? Regardless of the type of law you practice, avoiding the headache of recreating every document you generate can save hundreds and even thousands hours a year. Automation can supplement many of the laborious and repetitive tasks needed to create your firms more repetitive letters, proposals, and legal documents.
Automation does not have to go hand-in-hand with lower prices. Automation liberates us to do higher-value work. So instead of spending hours changing names, gender, and marital status on a will, or calculating and entering case evaluation dates, firm members can invest their time performing client-facing actives or building the company.
2. Increase communication
The majority of malpractice claims arise out of simple, fundamental errors, such as insufficient record-keeping and lack of communication. When a client calls your office, how long does it take to find their case and answer their question? Does your firm have a central location to store all of your contacts, cases, calendar appointments, messages, notes and phone calls?
A practice management system helps you manage information, collaborate with coworkers and provide better customer service. By tracking every contact, case, email, document, phone call and time entry in a centralized system, your firm has taken a major step towards increasing efficiency, record-keeping, and providing better customer service.
3. Outsource time-consuming tasks
A lot of attorneys are constantly juggling a range of non-billable, non-client facing activities that add little to no value to their business. Why not outsource certain aspects of your law firm’s administration? That doesn’t mean fire your entire staff and move it overseas, rather, if you’re about to hire another employee, think about whether or not you can get better utilization out of your existing staff by outsourcing some of their activities. How about outsourcing your billing, payroll, or IT management?
Outsourcing allows work to be managed by more experienced, capable resources with the necessary bandwidth, resulting in more efficiency and less headaches for you.
4. Improve document management & collaboration
A Document Management system provides a more efficient process for storing the firm’s intellectual property in an organized manner so documents can always be found. This means you can access your information and everyone else’s information easily every time, no matter who used it last. This organization saves you money by reducing cost of paper, storage, and wasted time. It will help you earn more by making you more efficient, and it will help you in creating a better impression on your clients.
5. Use technology to make things EASIER!
As you explore ways to add technology or increase the use of the tools you already own, remember that the end goal should be to make people’s jobs more effective and your firm more competitive.
So while ‘Lawmart’ may not be a direct threat to your firm, the significance it plays in the evolution of the legal services, from how clients prefer to shop, pay for and communication with legal providers, should not be ignored.