Originally appeared in the July 2000 issue of the ABA Journal.
BY ANDREW J. McCLURG
E-commerce has exploded. You can buy just about anything online these days. eBay Inc. alone offers four million auctions a day, in 4,320 categories. It was only a matter of time before e-lawyering came of age.
Ambitious new web sites are about to start auctioning legal services. Law firms will be able to bid online to provide services ranging from personal injury defense to drafting real estate documents. The idea is to get firms to bid against each other, driving down legal costs.
Some traditionalists object to legal services being treated like a fungible commodity. They fear e-lawyering will devalue the hallowed attorney-client relationship, an intimate union built on trust, confidence and open communication.
They may have a point. Check out this transcript of a recent online transaction, submitted by a frustrated, e-challenged lawyer:
eLawrealcheep.com Transaction Record #90896
Lawyer. Hello. I’m writing to inquire about the products liability defense case posted on your web site. My law firm is new to electronic representation, so please tell me how to proceed. Frankly, I have concerns that the auctioning of legal services may detrimentally affect the attorney-client relationship. I am hopeful you can alleviate these concerns.
E-Client. Enter your name, address, seven-digit password, credit card number and amount of bid. Scan bid for viruses and make sure decimal points are placed correctly. In our experience, virus-infected bids and misplaced decimal points can seriously impair attorney-client relations.
Lawyer. (long cyber-pause) I am writing to see if we can set up a time and place to meet to discuss the case.
E-Client. Your last entry could not be processed. Double-check credit card number and try again.
Lawyer. Don’t you think we should get to know each other before proceeding further? After all, as your lawyer, I would be among your closest confidants. And, of course, I am very interested in learning more about your company to make sure you’re a good fit for my firm.
My name is Tom … for 25 years … president of bar association … $5 million verdict … Lawyer of the Year … firm’s clients include … raised in … church caught fire … years in recovery … beautiful wife and three children.
E-Client. Hello, Tom. We’re a Delaware corporation. Enter amount of bid.
Lawyer. Could you tell me more about the case?!! Successful representation depends on complete familiarity with the facts.
E-Client. Click on Case Specifics for additional details.
Lawyer. I did click on it!!!!! I clicked on it until my fingers bled!! It finally took me to a porn site!!! I can’t even tell what kind of product it is. The picture is the size of an electron. Is it a can opener? A Slinky?
E-Client. It’s a thresher. Click on the image to enlarge the picture. Do you want to bid?
Lawyer. This whole set-up is outrageous!!!!!!!!!! You’ve destroyed the sanctity of the attorney-client relationship!!!!!!!!!!!!:(:(:(:. Don’t you want to know anything about your lawyers except their bid?
E-Client. How much does your firm charge for photocopies?
Lawyer. I can’t take it.
E-Client. Sorry, Tom. Bidding just closed on the products liability case. Would you be interested in bidding on this week’s special, the “Dime-O’-Dozen” bond deal package?
Note to readers: Real online legal services auction companies do not function as described above. This is silly parody.