SAN FRANCISCO (04/04/2000) - Q. Why don't sharks attack lawyers?
A. Professional courtesy.
Q. What do you have when you have a lawyer up to his neck in sand?
A. Not enough sand.
Q. What do you get when you cross the Godfather with a lawyer?
A. A deal you can't understand.
These were just some of the quips made Monday at the launch of AmeriCounsel.com Inc. But this new online legal service wants to be regarded very seriously. Its Web site purports to give everyone access to affordable legal services, with a flat-fee pricing structure that AmeriCounsel calls revolutionary.
Aimed at individual consumers and small businesses, AmeriCounsel's resources are available in Boston and in Portland, Maine. As more lawyers join its growing network, the site's services will become available nationwide. The site now has 15 affiliated lawyers in Maine and 25 in metropolitan Boston, and it looks to grow to 1000 nationwide.
AmeriCounsel was introduced in Boston by renowned attorney and Harvard Law School professor Arthur Miller, and Jonathan Slater, its president and chief executive.
"This is a serious undertaking that will improve fundamentally and dramatically the affordability and accessibility of legal services," Slater says.
The home page offers a list of more than 100 legal services. The variety is wide--bankruptcy services beginning at $449, wills and trusts starting at $199, and divorce services at $389. These are just some of the consumer options; businesses can choose from a similar variety. Credit and collections starts at $49 forming your business at $165. The fees are for basic services; additional fees are charged for more complex proceedings.
AmeriCounsel claims the flat fees take the mystery out of legal services and distinguish its service. But at least one legal expert disputes that claim.
"Fixed-rate services are nothing new," says Gerry Goldsholle, the founder and chief executive of Advice and Counsel, an online resource for free legal advice.
Matchmaker for Litigants
AmeriCounsel drills down for specific services in each category. You can read the background and introductory information on the service of your choice. You then fill out a questionnaire detailing your situation, which is used to match you with an appropriate attorney.
You will get a biography of the recommended lawyer, a picture, and a streaming video. You can tell lawyers when you want to be contacted, or you can initiate contact. Some legal services can be fulfilled without a face-to-face meeting.
AmeriCounsel sells itself on being able to match customers with appropriate attorneys who are particularly qualified in a specified field.
Miller's role at AmeriCounsel is primarily to ensure the quality of the lawyers who join. Instead of simply verifying that they are in good standing and have met certain experience requirements, Miller will check whether the applicants have received positive reviews from their peers and clients. AmeriCounsel's clients will also get the opportunity to rate their attorneys.