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
Other bar associations around California praised the LACBA’s
flat fee model and are watching to see what kind of response it gets from
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
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
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