The Lawyer as Trusted Curator

A number of recent entrants to the legal services market are taking on what I see as a new sort of role beyond that of trusted advisor—the lawyer as trusted curator.  In an era of information overload, this seems to be an important role for an attorney.  While the Model Rules of Professional Conduct don’t use my terminology of ‘trusted curator,’ I think this is what the Preamble is getting at where it states that “a lawyer should cultivate knowledge of the law beyond its use for clients, employ that knowledge in reform of the law and work to strengthen legal education. In addition, a lawyer should further the public’s understanding of and confidence in the rule of law and the justice system.”  And it seems to me that more lawyers can and should be acting as curators, both to educate the public and also as a way to develop their own client base.  At the end of this post, you’ll find a few examples I’ve studied as part of a current research project.

Here is my question:  When a lawyer acts as a ‘trusted curator’ of information about the law, does this trigger any special professional responsibilities?

To be sure, curating legal services is not the same as providing personalized legal advice to a client.  Yet, there are a number of parallels.  Users who encounter the curated experience may place an implicit trust in the lawyer’s culling together of relevant information, largely based upon the lawyer’s perceived expertise.  The  inclusion of some information and the exclusion of other information might motivate the user to act (or not act) in a particular way.  Well-curated information may very well lead a user to seek out the curator for individually-tailored legal advice.  In this way, curating is similar to advertising or marketing, as well as a form of education.

Much like the curator of an exhibit in a museum, these legal services providers combine law with art, design, technology, gamification, humor, and news from other fields to provide a rich user experience.  (For more on using design, tech, and games to illuminate law, see Margaret Hagan’s new Open Law Lab – the website is worth a visit just to check out her incredible artistic interpretations of law.)  While each of the examples I list below takes a slightly different approach, all offer at least a portion of their curated information for free, letting users establish some form of relationship before taking it to the level of becoming a client.

I see enormous potential for lawyers as trusted curators to help with the access-to-information-gap that perpetuates the access-to-justice-gap in this country.  Most of the public does not even recognize a legal problem when presented with it. Even if we succeed in providing more affordable, accessible services through technology and other efficiencies, the justice gap will remain unless individuals in need actually adopt the services. Curating legal information in user-friendly, understandable ways could go a long way toward filling this gap.

And here’s the list I promised above — a few examples of lawyers (and nonlawyers!) and legal service providers offering curated experiences in the US and the UK:

  • At AxiomLaw you will find case studies and a map of legal services to explore.
  • Inspired Law Practice uses Tumbler to collect and share information for lawyers to discover balance and happiness in their law practices.
  • LegalZoom was an early mover in packaging on-line legal forms for personal and business use.  And Legal365 is a UK competitor offering similar services.
  • Riverview Law offers a free library of legal information and uses social media like Twitter to educate the public about legal services.
  • ScotusBlog has curated a wealth of information about Supreme Court cases in an user-friendly, accessible website.
  • The State Decoded is the brainchild of a nonlawyer, Waldo Jaquith, but has inspired some beautifully designed websites for state statutes, including Virginia Decoded and MiLaws (our creation at ReInvent Law).
  • Velawsity recently launched a beta version of its online law practice management system, but already has over 3,000 followers on Twitter from its curated legal news and commentary.
  • Westaway Law  is a law firm for social entrepreneurship with a blog curating all things related to that field.
  • Most of these examples involve online curation, but LegalForce is banking on its online success with Trademarkia.com to open the BookFlip Store, a beautifully designed, historic store-front on University Avenue in Palo Alto offering books, electronic tablets and, of course, a highly-curated legal services experience where customers can do-it-yourself with books and a computer kiosk or meet with one-on-one with on-site chat attorneys.
  • QualitySolicitors is a branded group of law practices located throughout the UK, including in kiosks at WHSmith Stores.

(Disclaimer, I’m an advisor to LegalForce and Velawsity.)

(Cross-posted at the Legal Ethics Forum)

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