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Subscription Legal Services & How to Add Them To Your Law Firm


Subscription Legal Services & How to Add Them To Your Law Firm

Table of Contents

Subscription-based legal services allow you to offer ongoing resources to clients within a predictable business model. We cover how you can incorporate these into your law practice, success stories, and pitfalls you should consider.

What are legal subscription services?

Subscription-based legal services are a type of legal service where clients pay a recurring fee in exchange for ongoing access to legal documents, advice, representation, ongoing legal support, or other legal services. These services are frequently delivered in the form of online legal services through a web-based platform or app, and they allow clients to access legal resources and advice on an ongoing basis without the need for a traditional lawyer-client relationship.

According to the American Bar Association, a 2019 Altman Weil survey revealed that 64.3% of responding law firms are developing alternatives to the traditional hourly rate. Part of this may be due to the difficulties of the billable hour and changing client demands. Clio’s 2021 Legal Trends Report shows that 16% of hours billed are never invoiced, and 11% of hours invoiced are never collected. Offering legal subscription services gives attorneys the stability of expected regular income and the ability to meet client legal needs, without the worry of trying to collect for work already performed.

Most Common Type of Legal Subscription Service

Legal documents and form sites, and the best legal areas

Most subscription legal services provide access to a library of legal document templates. Depending upon the service, the user may fill in a template or be guided through the process.

Most tech company services offer basic legal documents in the areas of estate planning, such as wills and powers of attorney; real estate, such as lease agreements, eviction notices, and quitclaim deeds; business, such as LLC operating agreements; and personal matters or family law, such as divorce settlement agreements and prenuptial agreements. These services generally do not offer litigation documents, such as pleadings or motions.

Individual law firms offering subscription legal services tend to have subscriptions narrowly focused on a specific type of law, especially business law. Services tend to be priced based on the amount of work required on a monthly basis.

Legal document review

The most common add-on service to a subscription form site is legal document review. That is, after a set of documents is generated through the automated forms site you've created, you or your team can review those documents to ensure consistency and that all potential edge cases are covered.

Ongoing legal support

Even if you don't plan on offering an online component to your services, you can shift your billing model to enable subscriptions to ongoing live support for legal issues your clients encounter. For example, you can provide either:

  1. A fixed number of hours per month of legal advice for all your legal needs (with limitation on scope, for example, to non-litigation); or
  2. An unlimited number of hours per month of advice on a specific legal matter.

Considerations as you're integrating this new business model in your firm

With all of these models, make sure your agreement clearly outlines the scope of the subscription and what is allowed, including:

  1. The area of law and the specific legal topics you will cover in the subscription.
  2. The form of communication. For example, some law firms choose to limit their legal assistance to phone-only, or depending on your preferences, to email-only or live chat support.
  3. Who on your legal team will provide the legal assistance. Will the client have access to a licensed lawyer with a law degree for all of their needs, or will a paralegal be available for certain types of questions or correspondence?
  4. Availability. Will your client be able to contact the lawyer online anytime, or are they limited to certain a business day or hour?
  5. Incidentals. If you have a monthly membership that covers a broader area of law, document whether expenses like filing fees, expedited filing, state filing fees, registered agent service, or additional services will be included.

Examples of Online Legal Services by Tech Companies and Law Firms

Beginning in the early 2000s, tech companies began to offer a variety of subscription legal services, such as document preparation, legal advice, and access to legal forms and templates online.

Technology firms in the online legal services industry

One such company, Law Depot, offers a self-service, TurboTax-like experience to where users can draft their own legal documents and business contracts from Law Depot’s templates. Customers can pay an annual membership fee of $100 for unlimited access. Customers may also pay by the document, with prices ranging from $7.50 to $120.

Rocket Lawyer offers a more robust subscription service for $40 per month. In addition to being able to access The Rocket Lawyer legal document template library, members can also ask legal questions via the app, consult with a lawyer for 30 minutes on every new legal issue, and hire a network attorney at a 40% discount.

LegalZoom, the most established name in the world of online legal services, has more options and a more complex structure than most of its competitors. Like other online legal services, LegalZoom provides help drafting basic legal documents for a flat fee. Users answer a series of questions, and LegalZoom’s software drafts the desired document from a template. Users also have the option to have their document reviewed by a LegalZoom licensed network attorney.

LegalZoom also focuses on small businesses, including LLC formation, operating agreements, and intellectual property (specifically trademark registration). It also has registered agent services for small businesses. LegalZoom’s personal services are similar to its competitors and focus on wills and trusts, estate planning, and real estate.

In addition, LegalZoom offers packages that include consultation with a network attorney. For example, its Premium package for LLC formation, which costs $300, includes unlimited 30-minute consultations for 90 days, though each consultation must be on a new legal topic.

A Last Will Estate Plan costs $350 for a couple and includes on year of legal questions answered by network attorneys. After the first year, continuing legal support is available for $200 annually.

LegalShield relies entirely on licensed network attorneys to provide services to its plan. The Individuals and Families Plan is $30 per month and includes services such as preparation of basic estate planning documents, representation in family law matters after 90 days (including adoption, uncontested divorce, and name changes), defense of moving violations, 50 hours of legal services for IRS audits, and trial defense based on the number of years of membership (starting at 57.5 trial hours and capping out at 295.5 trial hours). Add-on packages are also available for small business owners, rideshare drives, and gun owners, among others.

LegalShield also offers a Small Business Plan for $50 per month and small business formation for $150. LegalShield services are provided directly by a network attorney. If a matter is not covered by a LegalShield plan, network attorneys agree to offer a 25% discount.

Law firms as the online legal service provider

More recently, individual law firms have begun to offer their own subscription-based legal services. Zavieh Law, a legal ethics firm in California, offers a three-tiered subscription program ranging from $49 per month to $279 per month based on the number of phone calls and document reviews included.

Counsel for Creators LLP, a firm that focuses on representing creative businesses, offers a $95 per month subscription plan that includes unlimited phone calls and document review. Spera Law Group in Louisiana offers a tiered subscription for business clients ranging from less than $40 per month to over $2,000, depending on the needs of the client.

SimplyLegal, a law firm in Miami, offers subscription legal services for businesses ranging from $1,750 to $5,200 per month.

Becker Law LLC in Decatur, Georgia offers a set number of hours of legal services per month to businesses.

Cozza Law Group in Pittsburgh offers similar services to businesses at a cost ranging from $500 to $2,000 per month.

Are Subscription Legal Services Allowed Under the Ethics Rules?

Subscription legal services provided directly by law firms are relatively new. Lawyers and law firms offering subscription legal services should be mindful of ethical issues that can arise.

The most basic ethical issue is whether a subscription fee is “reasonable” under ethics rules. ABA Model Rule 1.5 prohibits an attorney from charging an unreasonable fee. Given that a factor to consider in the reasonableness of the fee includes the likelihood that the employment will preclude other employment by the lawyer, a lawyer must be sure that the client is receiving something of value for the subscription. This is a potential issue if the client goes many months without unitizing their subscription. Avoid this issue by making sure to offer a document library or something else of value that subscribers can access at any time.

An attorney should also be mindful of limiting the scope of representation, as permitted by ABA Model Rule 1.2(c). This Rule requires informed consent from the client. Therefore, a firm utilizing a subscription model should spell out, in writing, exactly what services are covered by the subscription.

Law firms should also remember that, in most jurisdictions, there is no such thing as a “nonrefundable” retainer. North Carolina State Bar deputy counsel Carmen Hoyme argues that it is a violation of Rule 7.1 to call any fee “nonrefundable.” A law firm offering a subscription should consider refunding a client’s subscription fee, on a pro rata basis, if the client wishes to cancel early.

While no particular disclaimer is required for a law firm, most tech companies provide general disclaimers to clarify that they are not a law firm or otherwise disclaiming liability. For example, LawDepot’s website includes the following disclaimer: “LawDepot is not a law firm and cannot provide legal advice. We provide information and software and you are responsible for appropriately using this material.”

Are subscription plans right for your law firm?

When considering offering subscription legal services, law firms should consider factors such as the firm's current client base, the types of legal services the firm offers, the potential demand for subscription-based services in the firm's target market, and the resources required to develop and deliver such services.

A law firm may want to consider offering subscription services if the benefit of reliable income outweighs the benefits of more traditional billable hours. Services that lend themselves to an ongoing relationship where billing individual phone calls and emails on an hourly billing basis would be difficult and time-consuming may be ideal for a subscription model.

How Should You Structure the Legal Fees for a Subscription Online Legal Service?

Subscription-based legal services can follow different pricing models, including monthly or annual subscription fees, pay-per-use or pay-per-service fees, or a combination of both. Some services may also offer tiered pricing plans that provide different levels of access or service depending on the client's needs.

When Do Subscriptions Not Make Sense?

There may be situations where subscription legal services do not make sense. For example, if a client has a specific legal issue that requires a high level of expertise or representation, a subscription-based service may not be the best option. In addition, representation where the amount of work required varies over time may be less appropriate for a subscription. In these cases, a traditional lawyer-client relationship may be more appropriate. Additionally, some legal issues may require in-person consultations or representation, which may be more difficult through a subscription-based service.

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