Google’s newest venture into the paid advice market went live yesterday with access for all. The program, called Helpouts, allows “experts” to offer their advice to the public for free or a fee.
Many praise Helpouts as an opportunity for lawyers to enter into a new legal practice realm, and I thought the same thing. I got my invite and immediately signed up as a legal expert. Since then, I’ve offered zero Helpouts.
Signing up was a novelty, “let me see what this is like.” However, my real problem with the Helpouts program is that I’m not quite ready to try to explain to the disciplinary counsel at the Bar Association why a paid legal Helpout is more akin to using a credit card processor than fee sharing.
That is, paid Helpouts, which are the only kind I’d offer, require that you split your profits — 20% to be exact — with Google. Since most bar associations forbid non-lawyer fee sharing, the Associations will likely forbid Helpouts because of the high “platform fee.” I could be wrong, but I’d like you to test the theory first, please.
Of course, you can do a free Helpout, but I doubt there will be very many legal issues that are 1) localized to a jurisdiction (UPL concerns); and 2) easy enough to answer in a Helpouts session (malpractice concerns). I suspect that perhaps the best Helpout might be a contract review, or something similar, which would only take minutes to review, require no in-depth legal research, and could be completing in 30 to 60 minutes.
My guess is that there won’t be too many lawyers — especially those with significant debt — will willingly work for free. So, at least for the short foreseeable future, I doubt you’ll see too many lawyers peddling their services via Google Hangouts.
In the meantime, perhaps you’d like help filling out your business school application (at $300 per Hangout); perhaps some direction finding your style (at $95 per Hangout); help with the LSAT (at $395 per Hangout); or even something to do with smiling and pictures (at $125 per Hangout).
Obviously, there’s money in Helpouts, it just isn’t in the law.
Updated (11/06/13): Google’s updated the its support terms that confirms Helpouts is not for legal services:
At this time, Helpouts does not allow the promotion of legal services.
- Legal advice
- Other informational services related to:
- Civil rights
- Corporate and securities
- Employment and labor
- Environmental and natural resources
- Family and juvenile
- Intellectual property
- Real estate
There are also other restricted content areas.
H/T Anne-Marie Clark