Marc May, the founder of The Legal Technologist and a consultant at Syke, is launching a new venture – My Legal Marketplace (MLM) – which will boost transparency through price comparison of legal work. The venture is aimed at the consumer and SME side of the market.
Now, you may ask: what has price comparison got to do with legal tech? The answer is that if you have a real market, i.e. where information asymmetry comes to an end and buyers can make rational and informed choices with pricing visibility, then this tends to increase competition around productised legal services. It also tends to drive fixed fees, as providers then seek to communicate more clearly to buyers what they are offering.
Once this manifests itself then the next stage is the use of more technology, developing better processes, and smarter deployment of talent, to deliver these legal products to the buyers. This is because competition in an open and transparent market inevitably will drive improved production and delivery methods. In short, it’s good for society and the economy as a whole. And, this site would argue that in the long-run it’s very good for the legal providers too, because as they improve their service delivery they can in fact take on more matters and widen their client reach. I.e. transparency not only makes a better market (or in fact a real market) it can also improve and expand the legal sector as a whole. Far from being a subject that lawyers should be scared of, it makes sense to embrace it.
This site asked May some more about the project, which will get going later this summer.
– Why have you started MLM?
I started My Legal Marketplace to allow consumers to pick legal services and compare the pricing instantly (i.e. not going through a quote process).
It allows users to select a legal product (e.g. wills package), understand what is included and what the assumptions are, see the fixed fee and be able to buy it. I don’t see why people who want to buy personal or small business legal services have to go through the rigmarole of having to go around different firms and get quotes that might take a few days for all of them to come back before making a buying decision.
The direction of travel for consumers more broadly is to allow them to make buying decisions quicker and easier – it is therefore important that the legal sector follows suit with consumer demand.
We want MLM to be that one stop shop – not only for price comparison but also to allow people to understand simply which issues a lawyer will be able to assist with and what the process looks like. There are a huge amount of people who don’t use legal services so we also want to give them the ease and confidence to get legal services too.
Our website is currently in development and the anticipated go live is towards the end of this summer – so watch this space!
– Is the hope to provide total price transparency, and if so, will this centre around fixed fees? (I.e. because fixed fees or at least scoped fees allow the buyer to have some understanding of what they are buying.)
Yes – the aim is definitely to provide total price transparency for individual and small business legal services. The idea is that law firms will be listing their legal products (ie wills package, divorce package, etc) and within that it will contain assumptions on what it does and doesn’t include – plus optional extras where appropriate. Consumers will basically be able to pull it off the shelf and pay for it instantly – rather than having to go through a longwinded quote process with multiple firms.
The fixed fee element is important though – it makes sense to price in this way as opposed to billable hour. Consumers ultimately get certainty on costs and by extension more trust is built from greater transparency. On top of that there is much more scope to make these matters more efficient with legal tech e.g. things like quicker service, more consistency, less resource required, harnessing data more, etc.
– Will the law firms involved provide the data to you, or will you collect it whether they like it or not?
Very good question – I’ve spent a number of years now implementing legal tech which sometimes requires a decision on stick vs carrot. Personally I prefer the latter. I’d rather bring the firms along for the ride and incentivise them to get involved rather than going ahead and scraping the data already out there.
In terms of incentives for law firms – the key incentive is that there will be a second marketplace for them specifically if they list their legal products. This will include all sorts of companies that support law firms and in which certain tasks can either be outsourced (e.g. onboarding/due diligence, court transcription, etc) or made more efficient (e.g. legal tech/management consultants, legal tech tools, eDiscovery, etc).
Ultimately if they are offering good deals to consumers then they also have easy access to tools available to make them more profitable.
– Do you think that ending information asymmetry in the law will only happen at the consumer / SME end of the market? Or can the whole of Big Law follow too?
I think this is really a question of how different sets of people or businesses will buy legal services. The assumption with the consumer / SME end is that they are buying more ad hoc ie just when they need them. They therefore dip in to find legal services at the point of need and are making decisions as and when required. I think with Big Law the circumstances are different. It tends to be more B2B and the relationships are cultured for longer.
The business consumers in that instance are more knowledgeable and ultimately have a bit more leverage to build relationships and agree rates – especially those that have panels. In my mind, transparency is more important at the consumer / SME end. These types of users are likely to be less knowledgeable on rates and legal processes – and the fees they pay are likely to have a greater impact on their finances. MLM will deliver value by making sure they are able to make the right buying decisions. Big Law clients perhaps don’t need that same level of support.
– Do you believe the Law Society and SRA, and other bodies, could do more in this area?
I think it’s an achievement in itself those bodies were able to get price transparency rules through in the first place – I can only imagine there was resistance to it at the time. However, I think it’s just a foundation and really something that can be continuously improved and built upon.
For example, I understand the transparency rules only apply to a limited subset of legal matters so there is definitely more that can be done to broaden the scope. With that in mind, if I was a law firm I would be thinking about the marketing gain that could be had from being one of the trendsetters as a 100% cost transparent business.
Thanks Marc and good luck with the new venture!
P.S. if you’d like to get involved you can reach Marc via LinkedIn, or through this email: [email protected]