Will There Ever Be an Uber for Legal Services?

Uber has fundamentally disrupted the transportation industry, and at an astonishingly fast pace. The success of Uber is so phenomenal that it even spawned a new “on demand economy” in which goods and services are accessible instantaneously, from just a few taps on our smartphones. There are apps to get anything on demand now, from alcohol, to manicures, to groceries, to housekeeping, to medical marijuana, and more. It seems as though it will only be a matter of time before legal advice and legal services fall victim to the trend, and several players have already made an entrance into the space. However, there are still some key roadblocks facing the “Uber for legal services” concept, as we’ll explain in this post.

Why Uber is So Successful

To understand what Uber did to the transportation industry, and why it has been so successful, you have to step back and analyze how their technology works and what processes they are streamlining.

Uber does much more than just eliminate the long hold time to get through to a taxi dispatcher on the phone (although, that was always a major pain). The real power of Uber is in the logistics.

It’s about matching up the nearest available driver to a passenger in need of a ride, in real time. And not only that, but the real reason why Uber is such a success is that they’ve actually created a new marketplace for transportation with far greater liquidity.

Since pretty much any average Joe with a driver’s license can technically become an Uber driver, there is now a significantly increased supply of drivers in the transportation market. The increased supply, along with the ridiculously easy process for hailing a ride, has spurred increases in demand as well.

What “Uberification” Really Is

Ultimately, what it comes down to is that Uber unlocked hidden liquidity in the transportation market, making transportation more accessible, affordable, and in demand by all. And that is why Uber is such a transformative business.

Inherently, copycats will emerge and try to apply the Uber model to as many other industries and use cases as possible, and some might go on to be very successful. However, it’s crucial that these copycats be in an appropriate industry and follow the right formula if they’re going to succeed. It seems the legal industry is still not quite ready yet.

The 3 major aspects of Uber that have helped make it so revolutionary are:

  1. High frequency use-case (i.e. getting transported somewhere is something that most humans need to do quite often)
  2. Automated fulfillment process (i.e. a powerful algorithm for matching passengers with the nearest available driver in real-time)
  3. Unlocking liquidity in a stagnant market (i.e. creating a marketplace where anyone with a car and some time on their hands can supply a new mode of transportation for others)

Why the Legal Industry Isn’t Ready for It Yet

Companies like Avvo with its Advisor product, LegalZoom with it’s subscription legal plan, and QuickLegal with its on demand video chat app, have all started making a foray into the on demand legal advice space. While it’s a good mission and probably a useful solution that can help people, it’s not likely to transform or disrupt the legal industry any time soon in the way that Uber did to transportation. Here are 3 reasons why:

1. Not a Well-Defined Enough Need

Legal services generally do not fall within the definition of a “high frequency use case”. In fact, people usually tend to avoid needing legal services at all cost. This clearly makes it a different situation than getting a ride somewhere. People do that just about every single day.

However, the infrequency issue isn’t enough to hold back Uber for legal services on its own. Look at something like getting your house professionally cleaned – not exactly a daily or even weekly need, yet on demand cleaning companies like Homejoy and Handy have done quite well for themselves so far.

An even bigger problem is the fact that the need for legal services is not normally well defined or understood by the consumer. People are often unclear about what legal services they may need, or sometimes even the fact that they have legal issues altogether. It’s far different from having a messy house or needing to go somewhere, where the need is blatantly obvious.

A service that is infrequently needed and not clearly understood much of the time does not lend itself well to an Uber for X type solution.

2. Process Automation is Missing

The second challenge facing the concept of Uber for the legal industry is the lack of automation and process standardization. Legal services are vast, highly varied, and complex, requiring many processes and steps to fulfill. It’s not quite as easy as requesting a ride, inputting your destination, getting picked up, and then going from A to B.

In the same way that Uber wouldn’t have really been possible before the wide adoption of smartphones, the Uber for legal services can’t really exist until the proper technological framework is in place. This may take quite a while, but we believe it will happen and that automation is key to lawyers’ survival.

Law firms need to implement and adopt more standardized processes for handling legal matters, starting with a good client intake process to collect the required information. They need to leverage technology for all the processes which do not require human input, and free up more time for the humans to handle the rest.

Without enough automated processes running behind the scenes, it’s difficult for the fulfillment of legal services to be efficient enough to meet the demands of the Uber model.

3. No Liquidity Without the Other Two

Without a high frequency use case for a well defined consumer need, and a good automated process for delivering the service, it’s just not possible to unlock new liquidity in an existing, stagnant marketplace like Uber did. You need the frequency to create enough supply and demand, and the technology to facilitate the entire transaction before enough transactions will be sparked to spawn a revolution.

Does that mean Uber for legal services will never be a thing? Absolutely not. In fact, we’ve already shared our opinions that law firms of the future will be software companies and that an Uber-like, legal platform model will ultimately be what saves the legal industry.

But today, the legal industry is just not ripe yet. It’s far behind the times, per usual.

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