A new service launching today, LawZam Consults, allows lawyers to provide 15-60 minute text and video client consultations for a fee via a mobile-friendly online platform.

The new service is being introduced by LawZam, a company launched in 2012 to help consumers find lawyers and enable them to receive free legal consultations by videoconference. I previously wrote about LawZam when it launched and when it unveiled its video consultation app.

While the original intent of the site was to help underserved populations receive legal consultations for free, cofounder Brendan Ludwick, an attorney in Hermosa Beach, Calif., told me last week that many consumers who came to the site were unable to get help because not enough lawyers were willing to offer their advice for free.

So Ludwick and cofounder Claudio Dunkelman, a Los Angeles lawyer, decided to restructure the site to increase the financial incentive for lawyers to participate while still providing a platform where those underserved consumers could connect with a lawyer.

Consumers in need of legal help describe their problem and select an area of law.

With LawZam Consults, a consumer in need of legal help fills out a form describing the legal problem and the area of law, and providing location and contact information. LawZam then sends that lead to attorneys who match the location and practice area.

The dashboard allows attorneys to view leads and respond with a note and hourly rate.

Attorneys can receive notices of leads by email or log-in to the lawyer portal on LawZam to review them. Attorneys set their own preferences for the states and practice areas for which they will accept leads. When attorneys see leads that interest them, they can then offer a consultation by responding with a personal message that includes their hourly rate.

It is up to the consumer to choose whether to accept the offers from any of the attorneys who respond. Once the consumer selects an offer, the consumer selects the length of consultation — 15, 30, 45 or 60 minutes — and the consumer’s debit or credit card is pre-authorized for that time.

The lawyer and client can exchange messages via chat or speak via videoconference.

Once the client pays, the lawyer is sent a link to a chat room where the consumer and attorney can exchange text messages. They can also opt to speak by video chat or speak offline by phone.

When both users are online, the video chat button is activated and allows the consultation to take place by video conference. LawZam uses Google’s Web-RTC for video-conferencing, which allows video conferencing in the browser on desktop and mobile, including iOS and Android.

Lawyers select the state and practice areas for which they will receive leads.

LawZam uses Twillio to send SMS text notifications to users regarding consultation offers, payment preauthorization and new chat messages. Text messages include links that prompt the attorney and client to login and consult.

Either the client or attorney can end a consultation. Once it is ended, the attorney is prompted to enter and certify the amount of time the attorney consulted with the client on LawZam, which may not exceed the maximum amount pre-authorized by the client (although the lawyer is free to consult longer for no pay).

Once the lawyer submits the time, the client receives a notification of the time and amount, and can either confirm or dispute the charges. LawZam allows a client to dispute charges within 48 hours after the consultation is completed. If the client disputes the charges, then the client may agree to pay a lesser amount or refuse payment altogether if they provide a reason why they were dissatisfied with the consultation.

LawZam will charge a client’s credit card only when the fees are not disputed. If the fee is disputed, LawZam says it will, as a courtesy, credit the difference to the attorney’s LawZam subscription account. If attorneys receive multiple fee disputes, LawZam will review whether to terminate the attorney’s use of the site.

LawZam founders Brendan Ludwick and Claudio Dunkelman.

Lawyers set their own hourly rates for consultations and keep 100 percent of the fees they are paid. LawZam uses Stripe to process payments, which go directly to the bank account designated by the lawyer. Lawyers and clients are free to continue their relationships beyond the consultation, but at that point they would no longer use the platform.

Lawyers pay LawZam a monthly subscription fee based on usage requirements. You can try it once for free and keep whatever fee you earn. If you decide to sign up, LawZam has three tiers of membership:

  • Basic, for $49 a month, which includes up to five paid consultations per month.
  • Professional, for $79 a month, which includes up to 10 paid consultations per month and receipt of leads before Basic members.
  • Enterprise, for $125 a month, with unlimited consultations and receipt of leads before lower-tier members.

LawZam says that it screens attorneys before allowing them to join the network. It reviews lawyers’ registrations to confirm that they are licensed and in good standing with their state bars.

Bottom Line

Founders Ludwick and Dunkelman deserve credit for their initial vision of keeping LawZam free for consumers and attorneys. But not enough lawyers were participating to make the site achieve that vision. Too many lawyers feared that consumers seeking free consultations would not turn into fee-generating clients, Ludwick said.

This new model may not be right for every potential client or every attorney. But with the shutdown last summer of Avvo Legal Services, we need more sites like LawZam Consults. Consumers expect to be able to find legal help online in the same way they find any other product or service. This site lets them find a lawyer who fits their problem and practice area, know in advance what it will cost to consult with that lawyer, and then engage in that consultation, all from a computer or mobile device.

For lawyers, LawZam Consults is a new way to get leads from potential clients who fit the attorney’s practice areas and jurisdiction. While LawZam facilitates only the initial consultation, some number of those consultations are sure to become full engagements.

I’d hope that attorneys who use the site would stay true to its original vision and keep their consultation rates affordable. There are vast numbers of people in the United States who need affordable access to legal help, and this site could be a vehicle to help achieve that.