In my ongoing study of the Law Factory vs Bet-the-Farm dialog, I keep an eye out for interesting news. Today served up a doozy. The Wall Street Journal ran the article "Two Lawyers Strike Gold In U.S. Disability System."
The article discusses how two lawyers went after perhaps the lowest level of legal work possible - so low the US government opted to allow non-lawyers to perform the work. How did it turn out? "Last year their firm collected $88 million in fees ...."
The article goes in to some detail about questionable practices of the firm involved. Harkening back to my Bar days, it always amused me to see attacks on services like this, since they may harm the public - or the public good, in this case. What is almost never discussed, including in this article, is the point that many more people are getting access to justice because of this service. This point is implied in the growth of fees to lawyers in this market segment. Which likely is a result of the firm "spending more than $20 million on TV ads in the past year."
So here we have a firm using the free market to increase access to justice. Is there a need for some oversight? Absolutely. Too bad lawyers didn't take on this market which would have included a regulatory component. I suppose it's easier to criticize the success of others than admit your own failing in creating a solution to a problem.
Moving right along to a bigger punch line hidden in the story, "In 2010, the brothers sold a large stake in their company to a division of H.I.G. Capital, a Miami-based private-equity firm." Hmmm ... seems like a market validation of the model to me.
Where does this leave the dialog?
On one hand we have lawyers expressing all kinds of concerns about taking on commodity work, as it is somehow beneath them. On the other hand you have a firm that happily embraced commodity work and is driving a very positive bottom-line while reaching a previously un-served segment of the legal market. At some point the legal market may want to step down from its crumbling pedestal and embrace the commodity brand. As this example illustrates, when you leave it to others, you are exposing clients to un-regulated services and potential harm.