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Is the Greatest Untapped Market for Clients the DIYers?

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By William Peacock, Esq. on April 29, 2013 1:44 PM

A few years back, when I was a wee intern for a family law firm in Sacramento, we noticed a growing body of potential clients: the in pro pers. As the economy worsened, the numbers of self-represented parties in family law cases increased. People couldn’t afford the high price of a decent attorney so they went to the Family Law Facilitator’s office or an online document mill to process their own uncontested divorces. That almost certainly meant less business for lawyers.

It’s not a great situation for us. It’s even worse for the clients, however. How many of them unknowingly gave up valuable property or retirement accounts because they simply didn’t know about community property and QDROs? It’s a lose-lose situation. We don’t get hired and clients don’t get proper legal advice.

A possible, if provocative fix here: lower your prices.

Look at it as a basic matter of accounting. Would you pay someone $300 per hour to fight over $20,000 worth of assets? Or would you take slightly less than your fair share and end up with a quicker resolution and possibly better financial situation?

The most common argument against charging $100 or so per hour is that it's an unsustainable business model or a "race to the bottom." News flash: we've been at the bottom since 2008 or so.

Besides, lower rates doesn't necessarily mean lower profits. It's a matter of practice areas and lowering overhead.

In the family law context, mediation is a great way to start cutting costs. Instead of parties hiring two lawyers to duke it out over a Hoover vacuum cleaner that smells like burnt curry (I hate that thing), the parties hire one attorney to serve as a neutral. Family law mediation is a much more cost-effective way of handling a case, assuming the parties have enough of a working relationship to not stab each other during the meeting.

It's not just practice areas either. Look at your office overhead. How much are you spending on office supplies? Have you considered going paperless?

What about your tech? Modern cloud-based practice management software eliminates the need for any complicated network arrangements (such as Networked Attached Storage (NAS) drives or private VPNs) and allows you to connect your staff for about $30 per person per month. Some even have document automation features that can reduce the time you spend on each case (which is great for flat fee arrangements).

Running a law office is no longer an expensive proposition, outside of staff salaries. Take a cold-eyed look at your overhead and if you can, pass the savings onto the clients. You could recapture some of that DIY market share.

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