Online legal business Rocket Lawyer is importing the model it has developed in England and Wales back to the US as its home country begins inching towards opening up to non-traditional offerings.
It has become one of the first businesses approved by the Utah Supreme Court’s Office of Legal Services Innovation to take part in its regulatory sandbox.
This is a two-year experiment to test business models not otherwise allowed under the strict US rules that restricts the practice of law to lawyers.
Utah is blazing the trail in allowing non-traditional models akin to alternative business structures in England and Wales, with several other states looking to follow suit.
Though Rocket Lawyer provides online legal documents, it has to be careful about what advice it can give customers as it is not a law firm; it does have a panel of external lawyers users can contact for a free initial 30-minute consultation, with discounted fees if they need more help.
Taking part in the Utah sandbox means the company can also employ lawyers directly, as it does in England and Wales, and capture the legal work itself.
Chief executive Charley Moore said the lawyers would then be able to work with Rocket Lawyer’s digital tools “in a much more integrated way than ever before and in a manner that is scalable, cost-effective, and more transparent than the traditional law firm model. Ultimately, this will create a better experience for consumers”.
Arizona is the next state to follow Utah, at the start of 2021 – its changes are not time-limited – and Mr Moore confirmed that Rocket Lawyer would look to do the same in that state.
The company has also announced that it is expanding to Scotland, having moved into France, Spain and the Netherlands in previous years.
Rocket Lawyer is partnering with Scottish law firm Jones Whyte to offer customers legal advice.
“We are already providing legal services to millions of people in Europe each year, so helping people in Scotland was a logical step,” said Mark Edwards, senior vice-president at Rocket Lawyer for Europe, Middle East and Asia.
Six businesses have so far been approved for the Utah sandbox. The first was Blue Bee Bankruptcy Law Firm, whose sole owner wanted to give his paralegal a 10% stake in the business.
There is also AGS Law, a niche law firm for dentists, which has given a minority ownership interest to a non-lawyer partner to offer non-legal commercial services to dentists, as well as 1LAW, which aims to provide no-cost and low-cost legal services to assist clients in completing court documents and offering related legal advice using chatbots, instant messaging, automated interviews, non-lawyer staff, and technology assisted lawyers.
Estate Guru, meanwhile, is a non-lawyer owned legal tech company offering a software platform for estate planning, which proposes both partnering with and employing Utah lawyers and then selling the software platform ‘wholesale’ to financial planners, who will then refer consumers to lawyers via the software.
Finally, Lawpal is owned jointly by a lawyer and non-lawyer and operates a technology platform to generate legal documents in contested and uncontested divorce and custody cases, eviction cases, and debt-related property seizure cases.