‘Solid data on the online-legal field is hard to come by, but supporters and detractors agree the business model is gaining steam. Already, many traditional law firms have extended their practices to the Web, where they offer services like will preparation and document review for lower fees than what they charge in person. DirectLaw, a Florida-based company that provides support to such firms, says it has signed on 250 practices since its inception three years ago. "There are a lot of lawyers experimenting with moving their brands online," says founder Richard Granat.
Online providers emphasize that they are best suited for handling common, straightforward tasks—a simple will or incorporation of a business, for example. As cases get more complex, providers may suggest in-person meetings. But even a partial online answer could help clients cut their overall legal costs, says Andy Kurtzig, chief executive of Pearl. com: "You might be able to get key insights that will cut your appointment time from three hours to less than an hour."
Still, legal experts question whether the insights are all that insightful. Some express concern over the qualifications of online attorneys, particularly on third-party platforms. (The providers say they conduct rigorous background checks.) Others worry that attorneys communicating online might gloss over details that could more easily emerge face to face. "Maybe I’m too much of a fuddy-duddy, but I’m a little nervous about some of these services," says David Lat, an attorney and founder of the Above the Law legal blog.
Some clients, at least, seem satisfied. Retired marketing executive Donna Sasse recently had a question relating to her late mother-in-law’s estate—and says she got a helpful answer through Pearl.com. Ms. Sasse pays $99 for a monthly plan that gives her unlimited legal, medical and other advice. "Normally," she says, "an attorney would cost me $250 an hour."’
This doesn’t seem to move the ball much further. Many people have lost their shirts pushing pre-paid legal in the US. But I guess it’s progress of a sort.