Rocket Lawyer plans further UK expansion as founder slams “slow and lazy” rival

Rocket Lawyer, the US West Coast online legal services start-up that launched in the UK a year ago, is planning to expand its offering into Northern Ireland and Scotland next year.

Mark Edwards
Mark Edwards

The legal services supplier, one of the fastest-growing companies in the USA, currently has 20 firms in its England and Wales ‘On Call’ network, which provides legal advice to its customers. They include Stephensons in the north west, Glaisyers in Manchester and Simpson Sissons & Brooke in Sheffield.

UK vice president and general manager Mark Edwards said there were no current plans to increase that number of firms in England but that Rocket Lawyer was now looking to expand its network of advisers elsewhere.

“We’re looking at Scotland and Northern Ireland and we’re talking to firms in both areas,” confirmed Edwards. “Hopefully next year we’ll fill in those bits of the network.”

Edwards added the British arm had attracted 300,000 visitors since it launched last November (30 November 2012). He said the company was also investing heavily in e-signatures to augment its paperless approach to the law and was working on rolling this out across the UK.

“You create a contract online, share it with the other party and can flick it into e-sign mode,” said Edwards. “The other party marks it as e-signed. Behind the scenes we’re capturing lots of information this way, an evidential trail, which makes it a very secure and powerful way of working. Arguably it’s more secure than paper contracts.”

Rocket Lawyer is currently looking at whether or not documentation for property deals could be signed digitally, an area into which its service in the US has already made headway.

“As far as we know there have been no UK cases in court yet where e-signatures have been involved, you still have to go tothe the office to sign the papers, but we don’t see why it shouldn’t all be done electronically,” added Edwards.

Rocket Lawyer’s founder, Charley Moore, was in the UK this week after visiting tech conference Le Web Paris.

“This is one of the moments in time when everyone knows how the movie is going to end,” said Moore of e-signatures. “Eventually no-one will be doing paper contracts.”

Rocket Lawyer’s expansion comes as it continues to face litigation launched last year by rival online legal services provider LegalZoom, which has sued the company over claims of false advertising.

In October a Californian court rejected LegalZoom’s motion for a summary judgment in the case, paving the way for a trial most likely next year.

“We won the first round of that battle when we defeated the motion for summary judgment,” said Rocket Lawyer founder Charley Moore. “If we weren’t getting sued by a slow and lazy incumbent it would mean that we weren’t pushing hard enough. LegalZoom’s decision to litigate and not innovate tells me that we will win this war as well as that battle.”

Moore, as is obvious, is a lawyer who is not afraid to speak his mind. Take the fact that the majority of the company’s business clients are at smaller end of the scale, meaning that Rocket Lawyer is unlikely to be keeping the Big Law firms awake at night for now.

True to form, when the point that Rocket Lawyer’s client base consists primarily of smaller businesses requiring relatively low level legal services is made, Moore attacks it head on.

“I’m a recovering high-price lawyer myself so I used to work for the 1 per cent,” said Moore. “Now I’m humbled and gratified to be able to provide a service to some of the almost five million new businesses that were created in the UK last year. Quite frankly they’re under-represented because of the high cost of traditional legal services. We’re democratising access to justice. We’re knocking down the barriers of cost and I’m not afraid to talk about it. The elephant in the room is that legal services are too expensive.”

The majority of the company’s revenue comes from business although the majority of its clients, around 70 per cent of 10 million, are consumer.

“We have more consumer users but more revenue from business customers,” said Edwards. “Most of our revenue comes from subscriptions, and as you can imagine business customers subscribe for longer than consumers because their needs are more frequent.”

While the LegalZoom litigation continues into next year, Rocket Lawyer, fronted by the evangelising Moore and backed by the likes of Google Ventures, is continuing with its quest to disrupt the accepted way of doing legal business around the world.

“What lawyers need is a technology platform to deliver their services,” added Moore. “And when that exists there’ll be more work for lawyers, not less.”