University of Denver

The Legal Marketplace is Changing and Innovating

Associate Professor and Director, Family and Child Legal Advocacy Clinic, University of Wyoming College of Law

Consumer demand and innovations in the legal marketplace, especially technological advances, are leading the charge for changes in the legal profession. Many legal educators, lawyers, court administrators, and judges are embracing the evolution, but others are still reluctant to disrupt the status quo.

In some courts, our Cases Without Counsel project documented that upwards of 80% of family cases involve litigants who are navigating the court system without any form of legal assistance. In response, alternative legal services providers like LegalZoom and RocketLawyer are staking major claims in the legal market. LegalZoom’s website advertises having reached 3.6 million customers, and Rocket Lawyer claims to have created 40 million legal documents to date. In addition, there are online dispute resolution services, including those created by Modria, “a cloud-based platform companies use to deliver fast and fair resolutions to disputes of any type and volume.” For example, Ebay and PayPal use the Modria platform, which has processed hundreds of millions of disputes, 90 percent through automation—without human intervention. And Avvo, once an attorney referral service, now has expanded to providing legal information directly to consumers. 

To stay competitive, lawyers and legal educators have to increase their sophistication around the delivery of legal services, and “courts must improve how they serve citizens in terms of efficiency, cost, and convenience and make the court system a more attractive option to achieve justice in civil cases.”

Some recent movement toward innovation and streamlined processes in the family law realm include the Montana Supreme Court’s Order approving a study of Limited License Legal Technicians (LLLTs), like those already implemented in Washington State; LLLTs are nonlawyers trained and licensed to advise and assist people going through divorce, child custody, and other family-law matters. Oregon’s Informal Domestic Relations Trial (IDRT) gives litigants an option between a less formal, more flexible trial or a traditional trial process in domestic relations cases. The IDRT is a more accessible process for self-represented litigants, in particular.

Other states, including Idaho, have implemented simplified court processes. Iowa recently issued a report containing several recommendations to improve the accessibility, efficiency, and cost of family court processes in the state. There is also a recent report out from the Self-Represented Litigation Network that thoroughly reviewed remote appearance practices throughout the country.  

Additionally, many lawyers around the country are embracing unbundled legal services, also known as limited-scope representation. This model allows attorneys to assist and empower clients to handle discrete tasks in their own cases while the attorney still provides some valuable legal assistance.

These are but a few of the exciting advances that are bridging the justice gap in the legal marketplace. The goal now is to educate the broader public about the availability and choices of affordable legal services and to inform lawyers and courts on effective ways to deliver them.