What’s on your shopping list? Walmart in Canada is getting into the legal business.
An article in the ABA Journal reported that a handful of Walmart locations in Toronto have begun to offer a limited range of simple legal services through an arrangement with Axess Law, a law firm which focuses on providing standardized commodity legal services, such as powers of attorney, at very low prices and in a non-threatening environment. Examples cited in the article include simple wills for $99 and notarization of documents for $25. The firm expects to add uncontested divorces soon, and the plan is to roll out legal services to the rest of Ontario in the next two years and to other parts of Canada within four years. More complex legal problems that don’t fit within the firm’s business model will be referred to other lawyers.
My first thought was that, while it may cut back on some of the bread and butter work of solo practitioners and small law firms, it could offer the potential to increase access to justice. My second thought, though, is that this simple legal work often subsidizes more complex matters that lawyers perform for less than full price for economically disadvantaged clients. Which brings me to question whether this is truly a step forward for legal consumers or just yet another economic hit for both small firms and less well off clients. Does a law firm contracting to provide legal services through a distribution center such as Walmart have an ethical obligation to provide pro bono services?
One thing is for certain. If you are a solo or small firm and you want to hang on to this type of work you’re going to have to do two things. First, you must streamline your work processes so that you can deliver this type of service at the lowest possible cost. Then, you’re going to have to find a way to differentiate your firm so that clients would prefer to receive such services from you rather than from Walmart, even if your services cost a little more. If you don’t, there are other lawyers out there who will.