LOS ANGELES – California’s largest voluntary bar association, the Los Angeles County Bar Association (LACBA), has launched its own flat-fee service in an attempt to remain competitive with online companies that use the internet to offer consumers low-cost legal services.
The LACBA began offering flat fees in April through its existing lawyer referral service, SmartLaw.org. It has nearly 24,000 members in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. LACBA is also among the largest voluntary bars in the United States.
The LACBA explained that its move was sparked by competitive pressures from the online legal services companies already charging flat fees for simple document filing, such as wills and business forms.
“Consumers have become accustomed to these types of services. …Consumers are purchasing all types of goods online,” Seth Chavez, director for LACBA’s lawyer referral service, told the California Bar Journal. “That’s where our program has gone. It’s the larger picture of what consumers are used to experiencing in the market place. That’s what the legal services market has capitalized on.”
Customers who need certain services from attorneys enrolled with the LACBA will be charged flat fees for three types of legal services: $800 for an uncontested divorce, $800 to file forms for a limited liability company and $500 to register a trademark. Those amounts cover attorneys’ fees, but may not necessarily cover extras, such as filing fees and postage.
In return, the LACBA explained that attorneys pay an annual fee to get referrals from the service.
Chavez explained to the California Bar Journal that consumer response has been positive so far. The LACBA may even add other kinds of legal cases to the flat fee program within the year since there has been such a good response.
“Flat fees offerings help consumers to better understand the costs,” he said. “They put some of the myths about the costs of legal services to rest.”
Other bar associations around California praised the LACBA’s flat fee model and are watching to see what kind of response it gets from consumers.
Carole Conn, director of Bar Association of San Francisco’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service, said legal referral services across the state are due for some change.
“We are absolutely watching [LACBA’s program] very closely,” Conn said in the California Bar Journal. “We’re all rowing in the same direction. One would be a fool to stick your head in the sand and pretend these changes aren’t meaningful.”
LACBA’s flat-fee program did generate some negative responses among some attorneys early on, but since its launch, the program has seen an increase in attorneys joining.
“I suspect that some bars will integrate programs like this throughout the country once there’s been a little feedback,” Chavez said in the California Bar Journal.
Participating attorneys have agreed to offer legal services at the proposed LACBA rates. However, it is entirely up to the referred lawyer whether or not one qualifies for the flat fee rate.
SmartLaw explained that participating lawyers have been screened by the LACBA for experience, insurance, good standing and other professional requirements.