Last week, Google introduced Helpouts, a service that offers “real help from real people in real time.” The idea is simple: If you need help with something — a recipe, a computer problem, a home repair, or whatever — you can turn to Helpouts to find people who have the knowledge to help you and then connect with them via real time Web video. Some people offer their help for free, others charge by the minute or hour.

HelpoutsI searched Helpouts for lawyers and found only two — and neither is offering legal services.

The first, Marvin Ammori, is a Harvard Law School graduate, a blogger, a former law professor, and a TEDx speaker. As the former general counsel for Free Press in 2008, he litigated the Comcast-BitTorrent case before the FCC and argued it before the D.C. Circuit on behalf of citizen groups and technology companies.  Currently, he is a fellow at the New America Foundation and the CEO of a startup in Washington, D.C., that makes software for Google Glass.

On Helpouts, Ammori offers his services on two topics:

Surprisingly, given Ammori’s background, his fee for a 30-minute Helpouts session is just $50. Why would an accomplished lawyer charge so little for his time? He explains it this way on the law school Helpouts page:

Considering I’m a lawyer, I can usually charge hundreds of dollars per hour (I know, crazy), but I’m setting a hopefully low price because so many people helped me when I was in your position.

The only other lawyer I found is Larkin Robson, who offers a Helpout called Learn the LSAT. Larkin is a 2010 graduate of NYU School of Law who runs a company called 180° LSAT Prep. According to his bio, he scored in the 99.9th percentile when he took the LSAT. On Helpouts, he offers to teach the particular skills needed to do well on the LSAT and also to help with admissions counseling. He charges $360 per Helpout or $5 per minute.

Where Are the Lawyers?

As far as I could find, Ammori and Robson were the only lawyers offering Helpouts. Why are there no lawyers offering direct consultation on legal matters?

For now, it appears that the reason is that they were not invited. One can become a Helpout provider only by invitation from Google. And the invitation-request page suggests that Google is not currently extending new invitations.

The bigger question is whether Google will ever invite lawyers. There are no Helpouts categories related to law or legal advice (just as there are none for medical advice). Perhaps Google fears that allowing lawyers to provide legal advice on Helpouts could be a potential minefield and, for that reason, will never allow legal services there.

Should Google ever open Helpouts to lawyers, however, you can be sure many lawyers will flock to offer their services there.

File this one under “stay tuned for further developments.”

  • As far as I’m aware, Google recently limited Hangouts such that legal services are not technically allowed to be sold over the network. I don’t think that would preclude attorneys from giving advice, but I’m in agreement with our friend over at the Droid Lawyer, who said that he doesn’t want to be the first to explain how the 20% (or whatever it is) fee that Google gets is NOT fee splitting, and thus a violation of applicable rules of professional conduct.

    • Personally, I think it should not be fee splitting for the same reason it’s not fee splitting when I pay my webhost, or my landlord, or especially my answering service, which charges in part based on how many minutes of service I use. I realize that there is a technical difference in basing a service fee directly on what I charge, but as long as Google doesn’t try to oversee my advice or participate in the case analysis, I don’t think this in any way should be seen as the type of ethical conundrum for which fee splitting prohibitions exist.

      • Except that fee splitting rules were expressly designed to preclude non-lawyers from being able to take a percentage of the fee in exchange for referring services, which is exactly what Google is doing.

        I think that, in the end, it’ll be a moot point because of the larger concerns (unauthorized practice of law, legal malpractice), but it would seem to me that what Google is offering, as long as their fee is a set percentage of everything that’s earned, is fee splitting.

        One thought would be if Google only took the percentage for the first hour, making them more like Groupon advertising than fee splitting, or if Google collected their advertising portion up front, regardless whether any fees were ever earned by the attorney (also like Groupon).

  • I agree about the concerns for fee splitting. Likewise, if I read the terms and conditions correctly, even if you opt out of the recording of conversations, if someone flags the conversation that a recording starts up.

    I see major trust and privacy issues, which is unfortunate as it would otherwise appear to make legal advice more affordable.

  • Maybe the reason is that Google already invested in a platform that provide advice from lawyers and health professionals. It is quite wellknown.