While lawyers have managed to insulate themselves from many capitalistic forces, the internet has indeed brought a higher level of competition to the legal market.
Think about it. Before the internet, many people were at a severe disadvantage as they began the process of considering which law firms to employ. Markets were perceived as decidedly local for most legal matters. In small towns, this left potential clients with little information and few choices where decisions were mostly based on perceived reputations. In medium sized towns, the choices increase slightly, but, all too often, the law firm with the fanciest lobby and biggest building was believed to be the best by default. In large cities, law firms, both big and small, were everywhere. Choosing a law firm for many clients was little more than a dart throw and hope that the choice was the right one.While most law firms still shun advertising (you know, the information you would typically provide consumers so they can compare law firms and make choices between them), some update and maintain websites which include basic information about the law firm and the individuals in it. Clients can review the websites of several law firms in town, easily make contact and consider options. More importantly, clients can research their own legal issues in order to engage their attorneys in relevant conversations and test that lawyer’s knowledge.
While the legal market still hides itself behind the curtain of pomp and secrecy, the internet has brought competitive forces to bear for the first time in the long history of the legal profession. My belief is that clients will continue to become more informed, shop law firms and lawyers more aggressively, and look outside their geographic regions as part of the continuing trend towards competition in law.
For instance, our law firm specializes in internet law garnering clients from all over the world. Our prospective clients regularly engage in robust conversations about their legal problems, evidencing the research they have already done before contacting us. Because our competitors are easily identified on a Google search for “internet lawyer”, they can shop around and consider their options.
Before the internet, this kind of due diligence by a client would have been impossible. As the power continues to shift towards the client in these previously one-sided relationships, innovation and differentiation follow.