Keri is the Senior Vice President for Regulatory Affairs and the Chief Legal Officer at Legal Shield. Keri joined...
Jared D. Correia, Esq. is the CEO of Red Cave Law Firm Consulting, which offers subscription-based law firm business...
Access to justice is a complicated issue. Some can’t afford lawyers, some don’t know how to find a good lawyer, and some are looking for services that not all lawyers provide. In this episode of The Legal Toolkit, host Jared Correia talks to Keri Norris about this issue, including how technology can facilitate attorney client relationships and what bar associations are doing to solve the problem of access to justice.
Keri Norris is the Senior Vice President for Regulatory Affairs and the Chief Legal Officer at Legal Shield.
The Legal Toolkit
How Can Lawyers Solve the Access to Justice Problem
Intro: Welcome to Legal Toolkit, bringing you the latest legal trends and business initiatives to help you manage your law firm, with your host Jared Correia. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.
Jared Correia: Hey everybody, welcome to a new episode of The Legal Toolkit here on the Legal Talk Network. If you are looking for the new season of Parks and Recreation on NBC, I have some really bad news. If you are a returning listener, welcome back. If you are a first time listener, hopefully you will become a longtime listener. And if you are Rick Astley, keep rolling.
As always, I am your host Jared Correa and in addition to casting this pod, I am the Founder and CEO of Red Cave Law Firm Consulting, which offers subscription-based law practice management consulting and technology services for law firms. Check us out at HYPERLINK “redcavelegal.com” redcavelegal.com to learn more.
You can buy my book ‘Twitter in One Hour for Lawyers’ from the American Bar Association, on iTunes, at Amazon, and probably at Bookends 2 in Ada, Oklahoma, which I have heard is much better than Bookends 1.
Here on The Legal Toolkit we provide you each month with a new tool to add to your own legal toolkit, so that your practices will become more and more like best practices. In this episode we are going to talk about access to justice and access to attorneys, what a relevant popular subject and a timely one as well.
But before I introduce today’s guest, let’s take a moment to thank our sponsors. This podcast is brought to you by Answer 1, a leading virtual receptionist and answering services provider for lawyers. You can find out more by giving them a call at 800 Answer 1 or online at HYPERLINK “http://www.answer1.com” www.answer1.com.
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And because you can’t watch Game of Thrones all the time, let’s return to The Legal Toolkit.
Today I have invited Keri Norris of LegalShield on to the show. Keri is the Senior Vice President for Regulatory Affairs and the Chief Legal Officer at LegalShield. Keri joined LegalShield as its first General Counsel in 2003. She oversees the company’s legal affairs, including litigation, corporate legal matters and regulatory and governmental matters. She also serves as an advisor to the company’s Executive Management Team.
Prior to joining LegalShield, Keri was an associate attorney at Crowe & Dunlevy in Oklahoma City and at Hunton & Williams in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she specialized in commercial litigation, intellectual property litigation and creditor’s rights and bankruptcy. Keri is a member of the Association of Corporate Counsel of America, the American Bar Association, the Oklahoma and North Carolina Bar Associations and the Pontotoc County Bar Association, and I think I even pronounced that correctly.
She serves on the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Group & Prepaid Legal Services and is currently serving as President-Elect of the Group Legal Services Association.
Additionally, Keri is a regular participant in the Direct Selling Association’s Regulatory and General Counsel Forum. She earned a B.A. in English, way to go, and a J.D., both summa cum laude, from Oklahoma City University. She has been busy.
Keri, welcome to the show.
Keri Norris: Thank you Jared. It’s a pleasure to be here today.
Jared Correia: All right, let’s dive right into it. Let’s start by talking about a truly exciting subject, drag racing. I am just kidding, don’t turn off your computers. Let’s talk about retainers, how about that.
Keri, is the traditional law firm retainer outdated in your opinion?
Keri Norris: Thanks Jared, I like your idea of drag racing. It might be a little bit cooler, but let’s talk about legal services. Maybe everyone will stay dialed in for a little while.
You asked about the traditional law firm retainer and I would say that for some the traditional retainer model is just fine, large corporations, wealthy individuals with longstanding relationships and large law firms have all worked together to make the retainer model manageable. You can add in some fixed fees and maybe some alternative billing structures and that’s helped those constituents live with the retainer model.
But for most citizens, for those that don’t have a lawyer on retainer and can’t afford high monthly bills, the traditional retainer model remains a barrier to legal services. Lawyers, particularly those in small or solo firms, must meet the client demand and the client expectation. Clients need to find a lawyer and they need to be able to afford the lawyer.
Some new ideas have surfaced, including fixed fees for certain legal services, as well as limited representation engagements. These are alternatives to the high hourly rates and monthly retainers in the traditional model and they must be considered and employed to make sure that the consumers can afford the legal advice and legal services that they are looking for.
Jared Correia: So it sounds to me like the retainer is not quite dead necessarily, but what you need to do is to be mixing in other types of service provision and payment models, you would say that’s about right.
Keri Norris: I think that’s exactly right. I don’t think the traditional retainer model or the traditional practice of law is dead by any means, but there’s a whole new area of law that has to be used and made available to the 80% of people out there who aren’t in the traditional legal space. So I think there’s a new economy and a new model that’s coming.
Jared Correia: Okay, so let’s talk a little bit about that. What to your mind does it mean to be active in the on-demand economy? I don’t see lawyers using that phrase too often, could you explain that quickly for our audience?
Keri Norris: I can and I think you are right, it’s not a term that you hear a lot of lawyers talking about, but I think it’s certainly a model that works for lawyers and law firms. There may be a need for true demand economy legal services, which is connecting one client with one legal need, on one legal matter to a particular attorney. This is where limited representation arrangements are critical and it’s also an effort to make every state’s reg — there has to be an effort to make every state’s regulation allow for this type of representation.
Legal protection and legal services are going to have to use the on-demand economy for more than just a quick in and out legal services. In other words, lawyers are uniquely positioned because of their training to give counsel and advice. That’s the old method of attorney and counselor-at-law.
I don’t believe that it’s just a one and done mentality for legal services, it must be relationship-driven. The on-demand economy and technology can open the doors and make access to justice more available for the particular legal need. And then the lawyers can step in and provide the relationship, so that the advice and counsel to those clients is heard and understood and used. And so technology in a demand economy makes the relationship between attorneys and clients more affordable, obviously much faster and much easier.
Jared Correia: And attorneys are particularly bad at attorney-client relationships, wouldn’t you say, they are much more comfortable doing substantive legal work, so that’s going to be a different type of practice that lawyers are going to have to adapt to, right?
Keri Norris: I think you are on to something there. Traditionally, the legal profession, much like the medical profession, doesn’t learn bedside manners as they would say in school. They don’t teach it to you in law school and they don’t teach it to you in medical school, but the consumers are expecting that today. And so technology has to be a way to facilitate that relationship, not to be a barrier to it, and I think we are going to see a dramatic shift.
I mean some of the things we do in our business, we survey our customers. We ask them what worked, what didn’t work. Did the attorney call them back and speak to them in plain English rather than a bunch of legalese that no one understands. I think technology makes all that available and the consumers are going to demand that as we go forward and lawyers are going to have to come along with that.
Jared Correia: Yes, that’s a big challenge for lawyers and everyone frankly is trying to find out a way to be personable while you are using technology. I mean just like this wondrous podcast we are having today, where you are like 2,000 miles away from where I am and we are having a nice little conversation.
One thing I wanted to pick up on that you were talking about though which I think is interesting is you are talking about expanding this idea of an on-demand economy from limited scope representation, and a lot of folks focus on the limited scope piece of this, I think, at least the A2J community, but you think that needs to be broader and lawyers need to start bringing this ideal of an on-demand economy into more areas of the practice, right?
Keri Norris: I think it should be broader. I think we are finding in the states where it’s allowed that the obviously limited scope representation is very beneficial to the clients. And so I think is that it kind of spreads and we see more and more that happens. I think it’s going to benefit the consumer and ultimately it’s going to make the attorneys be able to find and deliver real services to real clients.
Jared Correia: Yeah, it almost forces them to adopt new service models growing out from the limited scope. So on a related note then, that’s an interesting point that you just brought up. So you have got these lawyers who are theoretically going to be on-demand service providers moving forward more and more often. How are they going to deal with state and global regulations on technology and data management, which a lot of law firms, especially small law firms don’t really concentrate on.
Keri Norris: You are exactly right. It’s not an issue that smaller firms really pay attention to, but I think regulation is catching up to newer on-demand technologies. I mean, we see it in the ride sharing space, when that business took off, few states regulated; today states are watching and leaning in with appropriate regulations when needed.
I think in law is going to be much the same. Many companies like traditional legal plans, including LegalShield, as well as newer legal service providers continue to evolve and create new solutions to this age-old problem. Regulators are starting to lean in. State Bar, such as New Jersey’s, issued a recent ethics opinion and looking at tech companies and the services they provide. But we have to trust and expect that regulators continue to protect the consumer, but only regulate when there’s a genuine risk.
The ABA pointed out in the Futures Report in 2016 that regulation must work to provide more solutions, not fewer, to the access to justice problem. So I think it’s going to catch up and people are starting to talk about it. Anytime there’s a change and a shift in how things are done, regulation will catch up, and I think as long as the regulators as well as the tech companies and the innovators are focused in on what’s really good for the consumer, I think it will be a positive.
I know here at LegalShield we support the ABA as well as the State Bars, when they are making positive regulation changes for the industry. There’s a balance and I think the market is going to find where that balance is and what the proper solutions are.
The new economy is going to provide new solutions all the time and regulations are going to follow, we just hope and expect that those regulations follow and keep them when they are appropriate, to be a positive, not a restraint to development.
Jared Correia: That’s fair. Trust the regulators. Have you ever read ‘1984’?
Keri Norris: I have once upon a time.
Jared Correia: You are an English major. All right, on that note, let’s take a break. This is all the stuff you need to buy.
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Hey, thanks for coming back. We were here the whole time. Let’s reset with Keri Norris of LegalShield, who is here to talk about access to justice and access to attorneys.
All right Keri, so let’s extend this conversation about technology in the legal field, because everybody is talking about this. In terms of access to legal protection, how does technology assist that process?
Keri Norris: Well, that’s a great question, and I think everyone would agree that there’s an access to justice problem. It’s kind of A2J is all the rage in the legal community. The ABA Commission on the Future of Law issued its report in 2016 identifying the problem and setting forth several solutions. Each and every solution, rightfully so, involves technology.
Lawyers officially have been inaccessible because they are hard to find, hard to connect with, as you said earlier, and sometimes even harder to trust, so we need to use technology to break those barriers.
So some of the ways it has happened, lawyers traditionally advertise on billboards, yellow pages, and television, and it was really left to the client to know what to do next, like they had to do an affirmative call to reach out to those lawyers.
Technology is critical in fixing this problem. With technologies, the lawyers are more visible than ever before. Social media and the Internet now put more lawyers in front of the clients, but technology has to go further. It must be a critical piece to connecting the clients and the lawyers and making it faster and easier than ever before.
Mobile applications such as the LegalShield Mobile App can put a law firm in the palm of your hand. Other service providers are doing similar things. By pressing a button a customer can call an attorney for any legal issue. Mobile apps, web interfaces, client portals, all of these must be solutions to be employed to make it faster and easier for the client to share a critical document, the information that passes between the attorney and client and all the materials related to their legal matter or their case.
And so I think we are headed in the right direction and everyone is talking about it, but technology is really going to be the way that we connect the clients with lawyers.
Jared Correia: Yeah, I think that’s good. You mentioned something before that I have never heard of before, yellow pages, what are those?
Keri Norris: Well, maybe it tells you my age a little bit.
Jared Correia: No, I know what yellow pages are.
Keri Norris: There used to be a thing called the phonebook.
Jared Correia: Really, I get some of those occasionally. Okay, let’s move on, next subject, so let’s talk about client demographics, right, you talked a little bit about how technology offers new and exciting ways to connect with clients, so let’s talk about client demographics and what are the best demographics in terms of reaching people through technology, where are you going to hit if you are a lawyer.
Keri Norris: Well, the easy answer, but it’s not really an answer which is every demographic group, which is every person. The average person, a legal issue is best served by technology and here’s why. Law happens everyday and when it does, it’s the most important issue in your day or in your family’s life.
We know that employee productivity goes down when the employee faces a legal issue. They don’t come to work. They are distracted by telephone calls. So access to legal services is a business issue as well as a personal issue. So the easier we can make the legal services available, the faster everyday legal issues can be addressed.
I would say legal services aren’t just for the wealthy or the poor, they are for everyone. The ABA and their Futures Commission Report talks about, about 80% of American public suffers from being able to access a lawyer. And so if you are asking who is it that’s going to be best served by technology for legal services, it’s really the 80%, the people that don’t know a lawyer, that are looking for a lawyer to understand their legal issue and looking for a lawyer to help them find the solution.
Jared Correia: Law happens, I like that. Have you trademarked that yet?
Keri Norris: Not yet, but maybe I should, I might need to call a lawyer.
Jared Correia: Oh man, you need to get on that. They are going to be all over Ada, Oklahoma, I promise you.
All right, let’s talk a little bit about lawyers and technology. I know we have addressed this. Lawyers need to use technology, right. Lawyers are not necessarily the most personable people when it comes to attorney-client relationships, but they have got to step up their game as far as that is concerned.
With respect to what you have seen, how well or poorly are lawyers adopting these new incursions of technology or more likely adapting to them potentially by being forced to adapt to them?
Keri Norris: Right. Well, I think you raise a really interesting question, and as you know, law is an old professions steeped in tradition and precedent and they use big words that average people don’t use. How to do all those things is what lawyers are taught in law school, but most of us never became a lawyer because we wanted to talk like a lawyer or be a lawyer, it’s because we had an inner drive to do something positive to help other people.
Because of the traditional and practice of law and motivation, I think most lawyers are embracing technology. They certainly are in their offices and their law practices. As you know, every firm today uses email, document management systems. They use billing systems. They all use mobile technology. Maybe not as fast to adopt as we would like, but they are all coming along.
The success of technology and the rise in technology will depend on bar associations and regulators increasing their openness to new technologies. The ABA right now is adapting its advertising rules to address online advertising, which when the advertising rules were written for lawyers, the Internet didn’t even exist and so state bars are starting to address the cloud and where can an attorney keep their records.
The cloud and the Internet didn’t exist for a long time and so I think lawyers are seeing that technology can help them in their day-to-day practice and also help them in their bedside manner with their clients and they are starting to adapt.
I laugh that there are some attorneys who still question whether or not they can use email to communicate with clients or whether they can store information in the cloud. It just takes time for people to adapt.
I would say the legal industry is embracing, you mentioned, some of it is they are coming along rather than leading the change, but I think they are coming along. And out there you always have innovators and you always have leaders and they are out there in the legal industry, whether they are in firms, whether they are in tech companies, whether they are in legal service companies like ours or whether they are in a small and solo practice firms. They are out there because they understand how it can better their life and their practice and also better the lives of their consumers if they use and take advantage of technology.
Jared Correia: That’s a good point you make about the bar associations hopefully becoming leaders in this space and we will talk a little bit about that after we take our next break. I hope every lawyer out there who is listening to this podcast is using email. For God’s sakes, if you are not using email, use email. Some people are trying to move beyond email already, so at least get yourself into an email account, but in all honesty, I am kind of right there with you, so while I stare at an iPad Pro like a big dumb animal. You can listen to more information from our sponsors.
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Hey, you came back, again. How are your Double Stuf Oreos? Mine were good. Let’s reengage now with Keri Norris of LegalShield over questions of access to justice and access to attorneys.
So let’s turn the page a little bit before we come back to this question that bar associations carry. How does the fact that more and more Americans are engaging in the gig economy affecting the way the consumers pay or will pay for legal services, and if you want you can start by explaining what the gig economy is to folks out there who are not familiar with that term?
Keri Norris: Sure. So I do think consumers and lawyers alike are coming to the gig economy. We look at the gig economy in my job as really it’s a way to connect a known need to a service provider who is willing to provide that need, often one time, to connect them for a one-time project, kind of like the old “gig” would be, you have a gig. And so that’s sort of the economy, and I am going to be honest, today’s consumers expect the gig economy demand services. That’s how they find their other services. The taxis are kind of going away. We no longer necessarily call an 1-800 number to bill a hotel room, we are able to use online or gig services for a one night stay, so consumers are used to having their services that way.
So I honestly think that they want to access an attorney. They want to talk about their issue and find a solution in exactly that same way. They want to do it all right by their mobile phone and they want to do it for a fair fee, that’s not going to cost them a lot of money.
So legal plan such as LegalShield have been doing this for decades, connecting an individual with a lawyer who is able to service the particular need they might have. It’s all about meeting the consumer where they are and communicating in a method or the way that they want and providing the solution at a price that they can pay. I think legal services companies are adapting to meet the consumer right there in that gig economy.
Jared Correia: And here’s how we can push that earlier question we had about how lawyers are going to work moving forward. Are lawyers themselves headed toward a future where the majority of them are going to be working in a gig economy, especially solo and small firm lawyers?
Keri Norris: Well, I don’t have a crystal ball and so I don’t know that I would say a majority of them are going to be working in the gig economy, but I certainly think they are going to be working in an economy that’s consumer demand-driven, which is sort of the underlying of the gig economy.
So I don’t know that I see the legal services going quite as far as some of the other things. So it’s not an alarm for attorneys. It’s really an opportunity. If they wish to find clients for particular legal services in a different way, the gig economy is the perfect way to do it, and it gives them more access to more clients than ever before.
But I would add that once an attorney is connected with a client in a gig economy, it’s still imperative that that attorney and that client create a relationship. And you alluded to this a little bit earlier Jared that attorneys aren’t well-known for being able to build that relationship or being the most personable of people, but I think in this new economy, although everybody wants it quick and easy and in an affordable rate by their telephone, they still want a relationship so that they can trust that lawyer and know that that lawyer is giving them sound advice for the better of the whole, not just how to get out of jail necessarily, but how to improve their lives so that they don’t end up there again.
And so I think that we at LegalShield and I think most lawyers understand that law is relational, it’s not just transactional. So there is a merger between this gig economy service, which is the consumer, need-driven and the practice of law. I think it’s going to be a great door opener, but there’s always going to be a need for the lawyer on the other side to create the trusting relationship of value.
So technology is going to move in this direction and lawyers must come along. Some will come along willingly, some are already there, and those that don’t will be left behind, but I think consumers and lawyers can both win in this kind of a model, as because we build relationships and trust for a relational business, not just a transactional business.
Jared Correia: All right lawyers, you heard Keri, brush up on your soft skills.
All right, last question. Let’s revisit this issue of bar association. You are clearly very involved in bar associations. You belong to bar associations I can’t even pronounce. What are bar associations doing, at least the ones you are involved in, to improve access to justice and in your opinion, are they doing enough?
Keri Norris: Well, let me answer the second question first, which is are they doing enough, and I would say, not yet. They are starting to and we are starting to as a profession, but it’s not a new problem, and so we are coming along and we are catching up, but we could be doing more.
This is a huge problem. As I mentioned earlier, the ABA has figured out that at least 80% of the population doesn’t have access to affordable legal services. So that’s a big problem. So who has kind of been the leader in this, well, obviously the American Bar Association has been very active. The Commission on the Future of Legal Services began in 2014. They started a two-year effort and which in 2016 they issued a report on the critical need of the legal profession to meet consumer needs and the critical need to provide affordable legal services.
State bar associations are also very active. Most states have created an Access to Justice Commission. I am in Oklahoma and we have an Access to Justice Commission here. The members are appointed by the Governor and the Supreme Court and they are working tirelessly to address legal service accessibility for both low income and moderate income citizens.
When we talk about access to justice, we can’t just think of it as the traditional pro bono and legal aid will help, because that’s what we have looked at for such a long time and it’s not enough. So state bars, these Access to Justice Commissions are starting to look at how do we meet the moderate means people and provide legal services to them.
Interestingly, courts are getting involved and they are trying new practices. In a couple of places they have what they call courthouse facilitators and they are involving mediators into the process. These are services for no charge or very low charge to the consumer to help them find their way around the courtroom, so that it’s a little bit of a consumer economy where they can do some things themselves and then when they need qualifying legal services, then they are an additive and they help them.
Because you have to have both, the consumer today wants to be able to understand the issue, but they need the lawyer to come in. So courts have been heavily involved.
There’s kind of industry association, right? There’s the Group Legal Services Association that’s focused in on this issue of access to justice and providing alternative ways, such as legal plans or group legal plans or union plans, alternative methods to provide affordable legal services and honestly things like this podcast, where people are talking about the issue and really trying to figure out for the first time that you know —
Jared Correia: Especially this podcast.
Keri Norris: Especially this podcast, exactly. And so there’s a whole new thing going on out there that 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago nobody talked about it. It was kind of the ugly little secret of the legal profession which is that most people couldn’t afford the lawyers.
So thankfully the bar associationas, the State Justice Commissions, industry associations and quite honestly industry and tech leaders are talking about the issue, and once we can educate people that there is affordable legal services out there, then I think it’s going to slowly, but surely, and in some cases faster than lawyers might be comfortable with, it’s going to work and we are going to have people understanding and recognizing that they have access to justice if they just look for it.
Jared Correia: That’s a great point that you make. I mean just having the conversation is a sea change from where things have been.
So let me take that as a segue to say thank you for coming in to talk with me today. This was fun. So that’s going to do it for another episode of The Legal Toolkit. It was another interesting exploration for sure.
I will be back on future shows with further insights into my soul, the soul of America, and the legal market; however, if you are feeling nostalgic for my dulcet tones, you can check out our entire show archive anytime you want at HYPERLINK “legaltalknetwork.com” legaltalknetwork.com.
So thanks again to Keri Norris of LegalShield for guesting on the show today. Keri, can you tell folks a little bit about LegalShield and what you do over there.
Keri Norris: Absolutely. And Jared, thank you so much for having me on today to visit with you about this critical issues.
So LegalShield is a 45-year-old startup. We began in 1972, marketing legal plans to the average consumer. We now offer monthly subscription plans for just about $20 a month to about 1.7 million households in more than 40,000 small businesses.
We provide access through a mobile app to a vetted, accountable and responsive law firm in all 50 states and four provinces of Canada, and when necessary, we rely on a network of thousands of lawyers in every area of law to service any issue that our members or customers might need.
We have been providing access to justice for a long time and we have no intention of resting on our laurels. We are aggressively working to add more technology to serve our members and to serve our attorney network. We continue to improve our education opportunities for customers and for our attorneys and we are also improving our corporate infrastructure so that we can stay ahead of the issues and stay up with the latest technology.
We are really proud of our history, but we are really excited about our future, and I think conversations like this are exciting and I look forward to seeing where we go in the future. So, thank you Jared for your time to discuss access to justice and of course the role and play of technology in that, so thank you.
Jared Correia: Yeah. Oh, my pleasure, very impressive Keri and this was a fun conversation. So thanks again to Keri Norris of LegalShield. And finally, thanks to all of you out there for listening, and just remember, nothing says summer like a giant margarita or several.
Outro: Thanks for listening to Legal Toolkit, produced by the broadcast professionals at Legal Talk Network. Join host Jared Correia for his next podcast covering the current business trends for law firms. If you would like more information about today’s show, please visit HYPERLINK “legaltalknetwork.com” legaltalknetwork.com. Subscribe via iTunes and RSS. Find Legal Talk Network on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn or download the free app from Legal Talk Network in Google Play and iTunes.
The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network, its officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders, and subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.
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