Lawyers who sign up as suppliers to US online legal documents business Rocket Lawyer – which is coming to the UK next year  – will be expected to do a significant amount of work for nothing, founder Charley Moore has revealed.
Stressing how excited he is by the UK market, he told last week’s Legal Futures conference, sponsored by NatWest, that his company, which is backed by search giant Google’s venture capital arm among others, was an ideal harbour for sole practitioners who wanted to operate virtual law practices under the umbrella of a major brand.
In the US, Rocket Lawyer has five million registered users who create half a million documents a month through the site. Since it started in August 2008, the company has helped 30m people, Mr Moore said.
Lawyers choosing to affiliate with Rocket Lawyer can place their profiles on the site for free. “Hundreds of thousands” of US lawyers “are coming to us in droves, to grow their practices and find some competitive advantage”, he commented.
But lawyers supplying services under Rocket Lawyer’s subscription plans, which give customers access to a wide range of personal and company legal documents, are obliged to review documents without payment with a view to selling other paid-for services. These can only be charged at 60% of the lawyer’s usual hourly rate.
Those who simply register their profiles on Rocket Lawyer’s website and operate “outside the plan” are free “to charge whatever [they] want”, said Mr Moore.
He compared free document review to the sort of deferred billing facility lawyers might offer to a start-up company in the expectation of future business once it was running profitably.
Mr Moore said he was “really excited about the UK market”. There was a high level of investment interest and “a ton of energy out there”. He emphasised that bringing UK lawyers on board was key to his business plan: “Rocket Lawyer is about lawyers… When we do business here it’s about lawyers also; it’s about a complete solution and lawyers are a big part of that.”
He stressed the advantages to individual lawyers of being able to operate flexible businesses in the form of a “web law office” run in the cloud and marketed through paid-for advertising on the Rocket Lawyer web site.
Meanwhile, the other US online legal document business coming to the UK next year  – LegalZoom, commonly described as the best-known legal brand in America – told delegates that their detailed knowledge of their client base represents “an enormous advantage” over new entrants such as Rocket Lawyer and LegalZoom if they act quickly.
Co-founder Eddie Hartman said engaging clients in the first place is “ten times as hard” as retaining existing ones.
He continued: “You’ve spent years getting to know your customers, your clients. You know what their problems are. If you want to compete successfully against [the likes of LegalZoom], take what you know and apply it. That’s an enormous advantage that you have right now if you seize it.”