“Participation in schemes like this contribute the grossly mistaken notion that lawyers are fungible and that the price of legal services, alone, is an appropriate metric.”

December 16th, 2011

Scott Greenfield, with whom I’ve tangoed before, rips apart Shpoonkle, an ebay-like service where clients can bid on lawyers. He makes a lot of points that are quite persuasive about the problems of such a market (and these objections will likely be relevant to some of my planned products).

1. Clients are engaging a lawyer about whom they know nothing except the lawyer’s self-assessment, a notoriously unreliable metric.  This is different than other bad sources, such as billboards or the Yellow Pages as the clients don’t engage the lawyers until after they meet them, giving the client at least a minimal opportunity to assess the lawyer’s merit.

2. The concept is based solely on price, with lawyers low-balling the work to get the gig. While the cost of legal services is obviously a critical concern, when it becomes the only concern, it presumes lawyers to be fungible. We aren’t. A lawyer who has never drafted a will before (whether young or old) can offer $99 wills, but the nightmare of what becomes of the client’s estate if the will is flawed won’t be known until much later. A $99 failed will is no bargain.
3. In order to put one’s “work” out for bid, a client needs to explain his predicament/need. For litigation, this is tantamount to an admission/confession, likely written inartfully.  It is available to any lawyer who wants to find it, and may well be discoverable.  Since it’s written without advice of counsel, there’s no telling how damaging it could be to the client’s cause.
4.  Further, the inartfully described “work” is the subject of the bid, and when it proves to be inaccurate (and this can apply to anything, from a simple will to litigation), the engagement is no longer applicable, and the lawyer it free to charge at will.  This have a multitude of ramifications, from getting the client into deep trouble by pursuing an inappropriate cause because that’s what he asked for to opening the door to buying one service but finding that he’s now subject to an entirely different legal need, and he’s already in too deep to extricate himself, to being subject to substantially greater legal costs than anticipated because the nature of the legal work is entirely different than what was originally sought.

Describing the nature of a legal problem without a lawyer could be aided by Harlan.

I don’t think Larry and Scott would agree about much, as Larry argues that as part of Law’s Information Revolution, legal information services will become fungible.

There is one issue, one problem, however, that remains even if everything goes exactly to plan: It still teaches the public that legal services should be a commodity, without any real concern for competence or experience, and that price alone is an acceptable metric for lawyers.  There is nothing that can be done to eliminate this fault, and everyone, layperson and lawyer, is the worse for it.  This is how we race to the bottom.