Last Friday, our L21C class was talking a lot about the billing practices and business models of law firms. A lot of problems with the traditional billable hour model were highlighted and we had many discussions on how we can do things differently. We need to do things differently because existing clients are demanding it and potential clients are being left out. In my opinion, the billable hour and the lack of transparency and predictability in the pricing of legal services are major barriers to access to legal services for many individuals. We need to make changes in how we provide our services before others step in and do it for us.
A new way of delivering legal services
In comes Axess Law. They are a radically different law firm. They are located in Walmart. They write wills for $99. These two things alone are a drastic departure from the traditional notion of a law firm. They utilize technology and their experience to make legal services affordable and accessible to the everyday “Walmart shopper.” They are tapping into a market that no other law firm has yet. What makes them so great in my opinion is that they offer affordability and transparency, and therefore accessibility to the “average individual.”
Affordability and predictability
Axess Law will write simple wills for $99 when the average going rate for a basic will is $300. Axess Law started off with a focus on writing wills and other areas of law with defined workflows. Using what they call “Best Retail Practice,” they are able to determine the duration and price of a given client meeting in advance of an appointment. This in turn allows them to develop their back-end technology to support and deliver legal services at prices that you and I could afford.
They offer flat fees for a majority of the work that they do and those fees are all clearly indicated on their website and in their storefronts. They provide quotes upfront for more specialized services. I think that this is all really enticing for the average person. Being able to gauge whether if they can afford a particular service before they even begin to engage removes the hesitancy associated with uncertainty.
Axess Law targets that segment of people who are currently not using lawyers. They do so primarily by providing upfront, transparent and affordable prices. They are also conveniently located in high foot traffic areas such as inside a Walmart. They are open seven days a week and into the evenings on weekdays. This enables individuals to consider addressing their legal needs as a part of their day-to-day errands. This level of accessibility diminishes the idea that legal services are only for the rich and elite or large corporations. Basic legal services can be seen as every-day necessities. Legal services delivered in this way decreases the potential for future conflict that often arises with improperly drafted wills, contracts, and various other DIY legal documents.
In a nutshell, Axess Law is providing legal services to those individuals who would otherwise not use any legal services. They are increasing access to justice.
A story of success
Axess Law opened their first location in June 2013. Now, just three years later, they have expanded all across the Greater Toronto Area, and have 12 locations in operation. They have reported a 634% increase in sales over the past two years and are talking about expanding across Canada. Axess Law has been featured in various publications such as the Financial Post, the Financial Times, and the Canadian Lawyer Magazine. Lena Koke, one of the co-founders of Axess Law, was recently named a Rising Star to Watch in the PROFIT/Chatelaine W100 ranking of Canada’s top female entrepreneurs. These are all strong indicators of success for Axess Law’s business model.
A model to adopt in other areas of legal practice?
I have a lot enthusiasm for the advent of a law firm like Axess Law. I think it brings legal services to that large gap of individuals who cannot afford “bespoke legal services” and who make just enough to not qualify for legal aid. Everyone needs legal services and those who have been left out for too long are finally being addressed.
Of course, many questions arise with this mode of practicing law. This truly is commoditizing legal services and questions of quality and ethics, amongst other concerns, come along with it. However, is it really a bad thing to have a basic will prepared and reviewed by a lawyer, when the alternative would be to have no will at all or a DIY will? I think Axess Law strikes a good balance in this regard by referring more complex work on to other firms.
Do you think there is any room with this model of business in other areas of legal practice? Could this “Best Retail Practice” thinking be applied to litigation and more complex legal transactions?
(Note that Axess Law has recently expanded their service offerings to handle small claims litigation – if anybody can shed some light on how they work out the pricing for these services to make it affordable and predictable for their clients, please share.)