Clean Up In Aisle 4

The idea was floated four years ago.  At the time, I thought the idea had some merit, at least enough to warrant further consideration.  On the surface, many thought the idea was demeaning and unprofessional.

Maybe legal services from your local Wal-Mart is the right idea.  Maybe it’s got the seeds of the right idea.  Maybe Wal-Mart, via economy of scale or some of its other tricks, can allow lawyers to provide quality legal services at a significantly lower cost to consumers.  I’m not saying it can, but I am saying it’s time to start thinking seriously about such notions that are immediately written off as “absurd” by the bar, especially the formal groups who love to spout platitudes but never hold the hand of a client whose life has been ruined by the beloved system, “not perfect but the best ever created.”  We’ve got a platitude that forgives us every failure.  Spouting platitudes doesn’t do much to help clients.

The Wal-Mart lawyer is now a reality. Axess Law has opened offices in a couple of Wal-Marts in Canada. 

There are two entirely separate concepts involved here. First, these lawyers physically put their office where it is easily accessible to a huge number of people who are both in need of legal services and unlikely to be able to afford the customary cost for those services.

Second, the lawyers provide the same legal services, the same quality, the same level of attention and concern, they would provide for their clients in an office elsewhere.  If they fail to do the latter, it doesn’t matter where they are physically situated.  The obligation to provide competent legal services has nothing to do with where they hang their hat. If they worked out of a hot dog stand on the street corner, the duty remains the same.

The former, on the other hand, is the controversial aspect. Carolyn Elefant questions whether it’s really all that controversial at all, given that lawyers didn’t always work in skyscrapers and mahogany paneled offices.

Many lawyers today turn up their nose at the concept of “Walmart Law,” – either arguing that a downscale location isn’t sufficiently dignified for lawyers, or questioning the competence of firms that choose to practice in that manner.  But truth is, the Walmart Law concept has legal nobility in its history, as I discovered on a family vacation in the midwest this summer. 

En route from Chicago to St. Louis, I insisted on a pit stop to visit Abraham Lincoln’s historic law office on a trip through Springfield, Illinois.  I’d never seen photos of Lincoln’s office and expected a stand-alone store front type building near the center of town or the courts. So I was taken aback to see that the Lincoln law offices were located right in the same building as – and in fact, adjacent to –  Tinsley Dry Goods Store goods store, which apparently was the 19th century’s version of Target  back in the day.  Lincoln frequently walked through the store each day to reach his office.  Moreover, not only was Lincoln’s office next door to the store, but for a time, the federal court also operated out of the same building.

If a law office is physically located closer to clients, and in a location where it can draw on a huge number of people who can get walk-in legal help, it can reduce costs while providing competent legal representation.  What’s the problem?

In the Global News video, my buddy, Nino Pribetic, raised the unanswered question with a quip: “it beings new meaning to clean up in aisle 4.”  Are they giving Wal-Mart shoppers the time and attention they deserve?  Where will they be should a problem occur, should litigation ensue.  Are they “real lawyers” or just picking the low-hanging fruit?

As Nino noted, it’s not just about price and ease of use, but the flip side is that easy availability isn’t a bad thing either. And if (and granted, this is a big if) they can provide quality service by charging $99 for a will, then that’s great.  Certainly, it’s better than the looming disaster of LegalZoom, where people are left to their own devices to see how cheaply they can destroy their lives.

The details of how this will eventually work, and whether it really is financially viable, remain to be seen.  At this point, they’re in spin mode, so the lawyers involved raise all the problems with traditional lawyers (you have to go up 50 floors? This is a big issue?) and their own virtues. Whether this is reality or showmanship has yet to be seen. One disturbing issue apparent on the video is the lack of privacy, with desks out in the open and no ability to engage in confidential discussion. Not exactly lawyerly.

But this may be a kink that needs to be worked out.  Sure, it’s “downscale,” but if the lawyers are cool with working there, the clients are cool with getting representation there, and the services are competent, then it’s not a problem.  It may not be your (or my) cup of tea, but so what?  This is about the clients, and if the clients happen to be at Wal-Mart, it doesn’t seem like a bad place for the lawyer to be as well.

9 comments on “Clean Up In Aisle 4

  1. Adora Myers

    Interesting article and issue. Basic business question – where is the best location for the clientele I wish to reach. Although, I find myself wondering whether or not Wal-Mart will make space available to anyone interested in renting. Is it an exclusive deal with a huge law firm, or is it office space being made available to law firms, both large and small? It would seem less odd and more beneficial if the space were simply being rented out to law firms, local or national, instead of to some exclusive corporate firm (read: LegalZoom with a secretary).

      1. John Barleycorn

        FYI; not in all cases do the big box stores/chains actually own their own real-estate (by in large they do for the “Wal-Mart” examples but not exclusively).

        Fetch the “children’s” chip of density (with some economically rats-and-tats–that’s the-tittle-be-little mumbo jumbo functions (that are actually sadly not too mumbo jumbo) and “socioeconomic political zoning hard fought wins” and that fetch the dollar does in fact fuck with expected “normalcy”.

        Hey, it ain’t always good but you want more than a backhoe don’t ya!?

        Wouldn’t it be cool to have an excavator, bulldozer, a loader or two, and a grader. Just for fun the fun of it and the land and buildings to play with them too on the weekends with your grandkids running the D-9 Dozer with blocks of wood strapped to their feet and Zappa blasting in that air conditioned cab just to give them a sense of A’Merica and all that shit while letting them seriously “almost” kill themselves on the “flat ground” while getting the blade stuck just under enough of some hundred year old oak tree fucking up the space for the new motorcycle paint shop and organic mushroom garden with the solar powered vents.

        Believe it or not even Wal-Mart is the “bitch” tenant in some locations and they may or may not have “exclusive” control over all manner of things including common store space or “illusionary” common store space.

        The Optometrists Guild for example has taken advantage of this particular “locating” niche for some time amongst other specialized guilds. The Optometrists guild for example takes advantage and assists the Wal-Mart cliental by offering the obvious (I can’t see) without having to do a full dilated eyeball workup to get folks in and out the door efficiently for a price point that leaves both parties better off if not completely satisfied. The entry into the “market” of specialization is critical for educating, and if need be sending them on with the bad news of you need a specialist, because you in fact are particularly” fucked”. And we just don’t do the really fucked up ones here.

        Thanks for the fifty bucks and you have yourself nice day now!

        Sorry, its against company policy to give recommendations. But there “is some” cool blogs out there and them interludes on them-inter-tubes might “shave” you a few days of your execution date, might even get you a pardon. They are mighty fun too.

        1. John Barleycorn

          Strictly commercial !-1-!-1-..!

          Cops don’t drink tea nor should CDLs, except on weekends.


          If any of you brave CDL souls “choose-to-go-there”…. Offering “tea” in a densely commercial location will led to the theft of approximately $250 bucks of tea bags alone not to mention $300-$400 of unopened sugar cube boxes under the opened sugar cube boxes. People don’t steal powdered creamer anymore since it is now a federal offense.

          It is worth it, almost, no definitively worth IT to have tea bags and sugar in your waiting area! Grandma comes with cash and is not naïve. Her grandchild has to go through the ride!

          Strap in and “the rambler has no place in your thinking”. If you choose to “go there” you are the servant, you will listen up and until the last 15 minutes before your allotted time, and then you shall deliver the harsh cogent & concise truth and nothing but while leaving the last 5 minutes to your client for retort. I shit you NOT! oR ELSE I WIlL DoSE YoUR CEReAL AnD PIsS oN YOuR ToMAtOE PLAnTs IN ThE DArK AnD EVeRY MAyDAY SEnD A CaPAbLE UNdERLInG TO FUCK YOUR DAUGHTERS WITH “DEVILIOUIOUS” PASSION aND THe willingness on TheiR part that will make you regret being such a fucking asshole as tO MisS eveN one of your clients.

          You SHALL FURTHER ANSWER AND BILL all further phone calls up and until you do not receive payment for three billing cycles.

          Roast with your weekend tea if necessary but take your guild and all guilds seriously. Society as you knoW IT doEs depended it.

          life is good. The mumbo-jumbo-politics suggest so.

  2. Mark Lyon

    Wal-Mart actually has some pretty significant rules that come along with its in-store leasing program. They must have a complaints resolution program in place, with a toll-free number for reporting concerns. They must be open at least ten hours a day Monday through Saturday, starting not later than 10am and five hours on Sunday opening not later than 1pm. They must be open every day that the attached Wal-Mart is open, so very few holidays will be observed. The service being offered must be available at all times during open hours – this was actually an issue for a local optometrist who was going between her local Wal-Mart location and a location in another city – having a receptionist there to make appointments and people who could sell and dispense glasses was not sufficient.

    Staffing such a law practice would require several attorneys, but would also result in a practice that encouraged walk-in clients and which was open outside of normal business hours, which certainly is convenient for clients.

    I don’t think this deal would be exclusive. Those interested in space at Wal-Mart should start by contacting Wal-Mart Realty. They’re the ones responsible for management of the building and outparcel space.

  3. Erik Hammarlund

    The confidentiality issue seems like it may be a problem. Not just for the issue of actual communications: My clients expect the fact that they have hired me to be confidential. And rightfully so: “Why ya talking to a lawyer, Joe?” is not always a happy question.

    Assuming they can get around that, it makes some sense. I had no idea that there were so many people who will just walk into a law office and make an appointment if it is convenient; I have been amazed at the percentage of business which comes that way. Sure, some of them want $25 of work but some of my biggest multi year clients were walk-ins.

    I agree that they won’t make much money on the $99 wills (or similar things.) They’ll probably get most of their income through referral generation, especially on large personal injury or med-mal cases. I don’t do med-mal or PI but I know that people spend a TON of money to try to generate clients. If you could be the first lawyer that gets called, for a decent percentage of Wal-Mart shoppers, that could generate serious income.

  4. Gloria Wolk

    The alternative-locale is not as new a concept as it appears. Some time ago I read about a San Francisco lawyer who met with clients at a coffee shop. That was her venue.

  5. Mark Draughn

    Things like location and convenience can make a big difference for the working poor. Going downtown to see a lawyer can be a huge deal — three or four hours out of the workday. Or if a non-working parent can handle it, they might might have to take public transportation if they don’t have the car, and they might have to take the children along if they can’t find someone to watch them. Putting legal services into a place where people go all the time will certainly lower some of the non-financial costs. Not revolutionary, perhaps, but maybe something better. It will be interesting to see how it works out.

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