Legalzoom UK, online legal services and successful business models

Legalzoom, the firm that has stirred up a good deal of controversy in the United States with its online legal businesses, has launched a UK product, Legacy. This follows its purchase of the North of  England firm Beaumont Legal, an old-established business that has been going for more than 200 years. It is particularly known for its conveyancing for which it has received a number of awards but its website also showcases its work on wills and probate. The intention seems to be to retain the firm’s standalone physical presence – it has impressive six day a week opening hours running from 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday and a slightly shorter Saturday. The firm’s website does not mention the Legalzoom link though its appointees are directors of the limited company that runs the business. Nor does the firm’s website make any reference, at least yet, to the LegalZoom Legacy product which is advertised in Beta form only on its own website. LegalZoom have clearly given a considerable amount of thought has clearly gone into the designing of Legacy – which is still being developed. It is worth examining its business model.

Legacy has been constructed to side step the market for one-off will writing by repacking it as a continuing activity. The idea is that you download an app. This guides you through drafting a will which you can update as your circumstances change. You can personalise it by, for example, specifying a legacy for a child; amending gifts whenever you want; responding to prompts from the app to reconsider when the child reaches their majority; and building up a unique library of photos and messages to go with your gift.

‘Capture and curate a journal of your life with your loved ones,’ says the website.’ Videos, photos, messages, thoughts – build something to pass on’. Coming soon will be a facility for future messages which will ‘Time future messages to only be delivered on events (wedding day, graduation etc), or dates (birthdays, anniversaries…).’ and, more prosaically, you will also be able to add a lasting power of attorney. The service costs £4.99 a month – with the clear hope that this will carry on until the regrettable inevitability of your death and the potentially profitable opportunity of your probate.

The challenge of the Legalzoom model is to remodel will drafting as a continuous exercise justifying the easy accessibility of an app. As domestic law stands, the actual will must be downloaded, printed, signed by the testator and witnesses under time-honoured requirements and stored. Thus, at the crucial moment, the process leaves the digital world.

Current requirements might change to accommodate electronic developments but, frankly, you might not want to hold your breath. It is also to be seen how testators see their actions. Will they want to build up photo libraries of their joyful children in the context of reminding themselves of their own departure? Will legatees be at all attracted to the imminently available facility for testators to speak to them from the grave on significant anniversaries and birthdays?

So, we will see whether this business model will work. To some extent, that will depend on the competition – which it is worth surveying. On this, www.Citizensadvice.org.uk has general, and moneysavingexpert.com, specific information. Any potential testator would do well to consult both. Moneysavingexpert.com has the great advantage of listing organisations that will actually draft you a will –  including the possibility that it may be included in your insurance; available from charity based schemes by institutions hoping for a legacy; purchased from low cost solicitors (Including the NGO consumer body Which?); and various DIY options.

Moneysavingexpert.com itself follows an interesting business model. It is part of a consumer empire established by crusading journalist Martin Lewis and, though now part of a wider commercial group, it explains:

MoneySavingExpert.com isn’t a typical website. It allows neither advertising (companies can’t pay to appear on the site), nor subscription (no charge is ever made for using the site). Yet it’s a mammoth beast, with more than 80 full-time staff, an email distribution list of more than 10 million people, complex MoneySaving tools to develop and a huge amount of technology to keep the site online … Companies cannot pay to appear on the site. Guides are written purely from a ‘what’s the best way to save money?’ stance. Once the guides are finished, it’s one of the team’s job to see if they can find ‘affiliate links’ to the top products. These look and work in the same way as normal links, but if someone clicks through, the link is tracked and may generate a payment to the site. The details vary – sometimes the payment’s per click, per user, per application, per accepted application or any combination … We only use affiliate links that give you an identical (or better) deal than going direct. However, as these are technologically generated, issues can happen, so please let us know if you spot any. We don’t track individuals’ data (unless we’ve asked you, where it’s necessary for a specific service). Nor will we ever sell it to third parties, or pass it to MoneySupermarket, without the individual user’s permission.

Moneysavingexpert.com started in 2003 with an investment of £100 and now claims 15m users a month. It trades on its ethical reputation. It is an example of how in the consumer field it has been possible to develop a business model where self-generated income can finance a very sustainable business in a way that you might not have predicted. Whether Legalzoom can pull off a similar triumph is to be seen.

Leave a Reply