Back in March I reported that Office Depot was set to start offering a pre-paid legal services plan. Yet, when I went to check their website, I found out the program had been deleted. I wondered if the idea had been scratched but could not find out more information.
Fast forward to this week.... and voila'. The service is back up and running. I still don't know what happened back when they first rolled out the website, but now it is back and functioning. You can go check it out here.
If I understand it correctly, the program is a pre-paid legal services agreement for small businesses, not a referral service, which is an important distinction. Services are provided by a firm with which the services seems to have an exclusive agreement.
If you go to the website, you can type in a zip code to "find your nearest firm." I typed the zip code for the Chicago suburb I live in and the result was one law firm in the city of Chicago. I typed in the zip code for downtown Chicago (which we call "The Loop" by the way), and got the same result. I tried the zip code for Los Angeles and, again, the result was just one firm.
In other words, this program seems to have only one firm available for the consumer, which is very different from the Avvo Legal Services model in which the service would generate a list of options for the client from where the client could choose their favorite, and from a referral service which chooses (or at least helps choose) a lawyer for the consumer.
I have not seen any reaction or comments on the service in other blogs or legal ethics sites. But that is not necessarily surprising. Other than the fact that the service is owned by Office Depot, I am not sure there is anything new here. Pre-paid legal services plans have been around for a long time and are mentioned in Model Rule 7.2 and its comment, which states that a lawyer who accepts assignments from a legal service plan must act reasonably to assure that the activities of the plan are compatible with the lawyer's professional obligations.