A couple of weeks ago, I was wasting time on Twitter when I stumbled upon a tweet by a lawyer who expressed frustration at the difficulty of finding a lawyer. Of course, the lawyers in his thread offered solutions like “Ask a colleague” and “Don’t worry, I’ll send you a name in your state.” Other respondents agreed that it could be tough to find a lawyer, even when you are a lawyer.
This problem got me thinking. If a lawyer, who knows many different types of lawyers, who has the means to pay for legal services, and who has a matter worth taking is struggling to find legal counsel, what hope is there for laypeople?
Much of what I talk about is the access to law as well as the cultural competency lawyers need to provide adequate legal services to the general population. Lawyers, this is an area in which we are failing. We were very slow to innovate when providing legal services as a profession. Far too many lawyers insisted on in-person meetings at brick-and-mortar offices and collecting bills by check when the rest of the world was increasingly turning to online communications, electronic payments, and Google searches for answers to their questions. When searching, the average consumer will turn to artificial intelligence (AI) to help them write a will, draft a contract, and find other legal documents traditionally provided by lawyers.
According to Clio’s 2021 Legal Trends Report, 79% of consumers want remote meeting options, and 81% want the ability to pay bills electronically.
While many of us have jumped on the bandwagon, some lawyers continue to do things the old ways. At the 2022 ABA TECHSHOW, a panelist controversially compared the legal profession to the plumbing trade. Both professions require licenses, are heavily regulated, and are protected from unauthorized practice — as they should! However, compared to medicine, a gap exists for the classes of services available. A patient has a plethora of options available to solve a problem. If they have back pain, they can visit an orthopedic doctor, a physical therapist, opt for chiropractic care, or an acupuncturist. All are services that can achieve similar outcomes, depending on the severity of the problem. The panelist urged lawyers to embrace the change in client expectations for alternative service providers that already exist in medicine.
I agree that the law is headed in the same direction. We can no longer clutch our pearls when people can’t find lawyers to meet their legal needs and instead turn to slick, user-friendly platforms like LegalZoom and Trust & Will due to the scarcity of lawyers.
I used to balk at clients going the way of AI, but as the technology improves, I understand why clients prefer these slick, client-experience-focused solutions. They give consumers the information they need, walk them through solving their problems, and make it very easy on the client. We can do this as lawyers by changing how we provide legal services. Simple changes include:
- Texting clients (who wants another email?)
- Updating your website to make it client-focused
- Accepting digital payments or offering buy now pay later options
- Using video, visuals, and infographics to explain your process
- Installing multilingual chatbots to answer preliminary questions
- Differentiating yourself by building relationships in the communities your wish to serve
Yes, AI is here and getting better every day, but the good news is that people will always need lawyers. We must look at how we differentiate and adapt to 2022 and beyond so that our clients can easily find us.
Iffy Ibekwe is the principal attorney and founder of Ibekwe Law, PLLC. She is an estate planning attorney evangelist for intergenerational wealth transfer with effective wills and trusts. Iffy is writing her first book on culturally competent estate planning, available in 2022 (prayers up!). She graduated from The University of Texas School of Law and has practiced law for over 14 years. Iffy can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, on her website, and on Instagram @thejustincaselawyer.