In case you missed it, a law office has opened in two Wal-Mart stores in Missouri. Yes, the dire predictions of some have come to pass … kind of. Wal-Mart doesn’t own the law firm, just the space. Much like a department store renting square footage to a cosmetic company to sell its products or like Wal-Mart and many grocery stores renting space to a local bank, Wal-Mart is renting the space to a traditional law firm. This gives a whole new meaning to doing a run to Wal-Mart.
org gbrown wisbar George C. Brown is the executive director for the State Bar of Wisconsin.
The Law Store, located in Wal-Mart stores in Joplin and Neosho, Mo., is the creation of a local Joplin law firm. Its services, listed on its website and on menu boards at the front of the stores, consist largely of transactional or forms-heavy practices for a flat fee. An uncontested divorce is $549. The estate planning bundle is $249; a simple will, $99. And, the Law Stores are open until 8 p.m. during the week and 6 p.m. on weekends.
This is not the unauthorized practice of law. This is one of the many ways the practice of law is heading. And it is not alone.
Legal Grind, in Santa Monica, Cal., is about to celebrate its 20th year in business. It serves up coffee and legal advice, with all its prices listed on a chalk board so that there is little mystery for the client about how much various legal services will cost. The services available are what you would expect from a small law firm, from a divorce mediation for $300 to a health care directive for $100 to a real estate deed for $75.
The Law Store’s services, listed on its
website and on menu boards at the
front of the stores, consist largely of
transactional or forms-heavy practices
for a flat fee.
Some would say, well, that’s California. But it’s not about California as much as it is about accessibility. Banks learned this a long time ago when they started placing branches in grocery stores. And, I believe, it is about predictability. In a recent column, I relayed a comment made by the president of LegalZoom: that lawyers have abandoned the middle class and LegalZoom was in the process of filling that need. LegalZoom’s solution was do-it-yourself legal forms sold for a specific price, although the model is changing of late to include direct services from a lawyer. Certainly, cost is a factor for many people, but is it low cost or is it the predictability of the cost?
I ask this question based on a discussion I had with my brother several years ago. He was building a new house. I asked him if a lawyer had looked over the builder’s contract. My brother responded that he wasn’t going to spend $5,000 to have a lawyer look over a contract. I reminded him that he was not buying a house; so far, he was buying a hole in the ground and the promise of a house, and I told him I could find him a lawyer for far less than he thought. He relented. The lawyer reviewed the contract and charged him $125.
Convenience, predictability, and a reasonable, known cost. Sounds like a sensible client-focused business practice to me.
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