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Walmart law already here

|Written By Yamri Taddese

Some said it was only a matter of time and they were right. Walmart law, and the accompanying low prices, is here in Canada.

Mark Morris, left, and Lena Koke at the Axess Law location on Eglinton Avenue East. Photo: Glenn Kauth

If you happened to swing by the Walmart near Warden Avenue and Eglinton Avenue East in Toronto to pick up toiletries recently, you likely saw an orange, Flight Centre-like office offering a range of low-cost legal services. A simple will, for example, is going for $99.99 at the moment. The fee to sell a home, meanwhile, is $449.

Lawyer Mark Morris and his colleague, Lena Koke, had been helping pharmacies and restaurants find their ways into Walmart stores for some time. About a year ago, they decided to take their own law firm in there, too. As retail lawyers, they knew the needs of the customers who shop at Walmart, says Morris, co-founder of Axess Law Professional Corp.

“Based on the knowledge of the needs of the customer base and the fact that, quite frankly, there are many Canadians who are not being served by traditional legal models, we decided that it was an appropriate time to make an approach,” he says.

“And the approach we made was very simple: We’re going to focus on those areas of law that are somewhat commoditized, ensure that the same values and standards that we brought to our practices in our downtown office are maintained rigorously throughout our firm, and to do so through strict training and making sure that we don’t take on files that are obvious red flags,” he adds.

It has been a year since the move to Walmart, but Axess Law kept a low profile while building its structure and ensuring it could meet public demand. “We’re jammed,” says Morris about the firm’s business so far. “That’s the only way I can describe it. We’re getting lots of response.”

Other than simple tasks like notary services, wills are another service the firm can offer fairly quickly, according to Morris.

“The vast majority of Canadians don’t have complicated wills. In fact, if I have to say, 95 per cent of the Canadian population probably wants to leave [their assets] to their spouse and their children equally, and their assets are such that they don’t necessitate secondary wills, they don’t require alter ego trusts, they don’t require complex planning,” he says.

“For those people, we are able to provide what is a simple will that ultimately meets their objectives and puts wills in the hands of the 56 per cent of Canadians that don’t currently have one. This is an access to justice issue as much as it is a business opportunity.”

Similarly, real estate is another service the firm can offer as Axess Law has the ability to grow its backend operations in downtown Toronto while using its frontline services at Walmart as intake centres, Morris adds.

Besides the Warden and Eglinton location, Axess Law now has offices in the Walmart at the Scarborough Town Centre and 500 Copper Creek Dr. in Markham, Ont. It’s also getting ready to open another office on Lawrence Avenue East in Scarborough. It offers fixed fees with most locations open until 8 p.m. every day.

Morris says he and Koke have notified the Law Society of Upper Canada about all of their moves and notes the regulator seems “content to let us do our thing.”

Malcolm Mercer, who chairs the law society’s alternative business structure working group, says it’s a good thing lawyers are recognizing the different ways in which clients are looking for services.

“I think the fact that lawyers are offering services where consumers come to acquire other goods and services is not completely new, but there seems to be a clear recognition by some that consumers will look for legal services in different ways and that’s a good thing,” he says.

In February, law society benchers voted unanimously to launch a consultation on four options for non-lawyer ownership of law firms. During the debate that preceded the vote, some benchers also discussed the idea of law firms going into supermarket chains as is already the case in Britain.

“My view is the moment we permit our profession to go into the Walmarts or the Best Buy stores or any of the big-box places, somehow it loses some of our professionalism,” said Bencher Gerald Swaye.

Morris is quick to point out that the firm’s services at its Walmart offices aren’t document generation. “We’ve studied those [law society] regulations backwards and forwards. We are fully compliant,” he says.

Lawyers at Axess Law routinely ask clients who come for will preparation services detailed background questions about their families, businesses, and taxes, notes Morris. “Our lawyers know what to do in the event that those answers come back in the positive or negative. We are recording all of these features into our systems electronically in order to make sure that we are being completely compliant should we be forced to come before the court.

“This is not a matter of document generation. This is a matter of doing proper legal work.”   

For more, see "Heated debate on alternative structures."

  • Bradley Wright
    So they are going to have two lawyers involved but in two locations? So much for $99. Anyway, you continue to miss my point that as long as lawyers wholly own their firms, they can market any way they like. The real evil is letting nonlawyers own law firms. That would be a disaster for the public and the profession as a whole. Another evil is continuing to let a debate over the lowest cost major legal service deflect our time and energies away from dealing with the barrier to access to justice that dwarfs all other real and imagined barriers combined - the time and cost of litigation. If you want to help the public, work toward solving that mess.
  • Bradley Wright
    Paul, who do you mean by "these guys"? Xcess says they are not channeling. They say they are referring out wills and other work that is beyond their competence. What some greedy firms really want to do is skim off the cream and avoid any hard work. In doing so, they disserve the public and the profession. They will bungle wills beyond their competence level for the reasons I have given, and they harm other firms whose younger lawyers would be given those files to work on under the aegis of an experienced lawyer so as to build up expertise. You, as a nonlawyer, do not seem to understand the value of that to the public. Further, such firms offer a low fee as a come-on and then try to upsell like mad. In any event, I do not worry much about law firms behaving that way. The real threat to the public is allowing nonlawyers to own law firms, kill competition by orgies of consolidations, and then overcharging the public ever after. There is lots of evidence proving my point on that.
  • Paul Lambe
    Read the article again and see their website,

    http://www.axesslaw.com/about/
    http://www.axesslaw.com/services/
    http://www.axesslaw.com/services/wills-and-power-of-attorneys
    http://www.thestar.com/business/personal_finance/2014/04/21/walmart_shoppers_can_now_get_99_wills.html

    ‘ensure that the same values and standards that we brought to our practices in our downtown office are maintained rigorously throughout our firm’

    ‘Axess Law has the ability to grow its backend operations in downtown Toronto while using its frontline services at Walmart as intake centres’
  • Bradley Wright
    Paul, the point you are missing is that relatively few wills fall into the "simple" category but that if you try to take those wills away from lawyers trained to do all wills and give them to people who will claim to limit themselves to only "simple" wills, you muddy the system to the detriment of the public. To cite only two examples, the "simple" will drafters will often not recognize when they should be referring the work out, and they will often convince themselves that they are competent when they are not in order to keep the fee. Besides, the focus on wills, which are already inexpensive and cost-effective, deflects attention away from the real access to justice problem which is the time and cost of litigation. If you want to help the public, focus on the real problem, not on non-problems.
  • Paul Lambe
    Thanks Bradley,

    I think it is you who are missing the point.

    These guys are channeling business to one of their business units with a unique marketing strategy.

    How they deal with each new client is then determined by their front line people who send them to other people in the firm. I doubt if many of their new clients get simple wills, once they are sent to another contact at one of the firms locations. That lawyer deals with their case and charges accordingly.

    Great business strategy to build clientelle.
  • Bradley Wright
    Paul, with all due respect to you and Jim, you should not describe Jim's opinion as objective. Uninformed would be a better word. I have lost count of the number of clients who have told me all they needed was a simple will, but it did not turn out that way. And no, I am not generating work for myself. Never have, never will. If some lawyers think they can do all wills for $99, then they are building a future tsunami of negligence claims. So then they say they won't do all the wills but will farm out the, ahem, non-simple wills. If so, they will have to farm out most of them and not make much money on the rest, or they won't farm them out but won't handle them well given the price point. Not a sensible long-term business model. The only other choice is to handle the non-simple wills but charge a lot more than the original, come-on, gimmick price. It is so easy to think that law is easy to do when you do not know what you are doing. Ignorance is bliss as they say.
  • Paul Lambe
    Did you ever have ONE that needed a simple will? That's what this discussion is about. Go read the article a few more times. Get some help if needed, as it seems things don't come to you easily.
  • Bradley Wright
    Jim, the legal profession has not already lost as you put it. We are still very busy doing excellent work at highly competitive rates. You say the public wants something different. Do they want US style conveyancing where a handful of giant corporations destroyed the real estate bar with unfair pricing and have, ever since, hosed the US public with high prices and lousy service? Do they want an immense reduction in competition followed by the inevitable rise in prices which ABS guarantees? You and the public should be very careful what you wish for. I promise you that if big corporations take law away from small law firms, the public will rue the day, but it will be irreversible. The only real barrier to legal services is the high cost of litigation, but the changes you want will do nothing about that. All they will do is kill off the most affordable suppliers of legal services and allow the predators to soak the public forever after. Again, be darn careful what you wish for.
  • Bradley Wright
    I owe David Conn an apology. I misread his post. He is on our side of the debate. Sorry David. Jim & Paul, any lawyer who would do a will for $99 where there is a home, a cabin on a lake, a pension, an RSP and more than one child is an idiot. Third, Morris & Koke may say they will train lawyers to refer out work they should not handle. They should refer all of it out. Their minions will be too tempted to convince themselves that the file falls within their limited range of competence in order to meet their billing targets. And No, a bad will is not better than no will. At least with no will, the SLRA applies and we know what we are dealing with. Bad wills are far more likely to cause court fights among heirs or need a court application for directions, and whenever you see the word 'court', think outrageous or unnecessary expense. We argue against ABS to protect the public from its permanent, costly harms, and against assembly line law because we know that it leads to costly messes.
  • Paul Lambe
    Just another nonobjective opinion without the facts of the discussion.
  • Paul Lambe
    Well done Jim, finally an objective opinion.

    Too many lawyers who commented ingnored details and facts and made their comments relating to more complex estates.

    Few of them made such an objective statement on simple estates that would allow a person to 'get something' done.

    And the majority of people who do not have a will are these people, singles with one beneficiary such as a parent and few assets, young couples just starting out with few assets but need to make each other beneficiaries for the home which may be paid of by insurance, etc. These types of 'simple' estates.

    Other more difficult estates which would be picked up by the questionnaire would be referred back to home office for more service.
  • Jim Bliwas
    Thanks Paul, I appreciate the appreciation.
  • Jim Bliwas
    I suspect that the majority of people coming to Axess have very simple estates: A home, maybe a trailer or cabin on a lake, possibly a pension or RRSP, and want to leave everything to their spouse and children. They don't have estate tax issues. For many of them, even $99 may stretch the family budget but at least they have peace of mind knowing that their affairs are in order.

    Isn't that better than having no will at all?

    In other articles about the concept, Mark Morris and Lena Koke say that part of the training their lawyers get is to know when to refer someone to a more specialized firm. I doubt Axess will try tackling a complex estate (or other issue) that is beyond their capability or expertise.

    In all areas law, we're seeing lawyers raging against the tsunami that's washing over the business model of the profession. They're not fighting a losing battle because they've already lost: Consumer and business clients want and need something different.
  • Bradley Wright
    Paul, That is utterly false and shows why you should never be allowed to own a law firm. I assume you were talking about a Will. Filled out questionnaire or no, it takes an hour or two to do a Will and two PoAs for one person, more for two people, if the work is being done properly. For that one person, a typical fee for all three documents plus the affidavit of witness is $400, or $200 for the Will, $125 for the first PoA and $75 of the other PoA. For that, the client learns a lot, gets documents that will stand up to attack, and has their capacity verified against attack. Out of that $400, I pay my modest overhead, earn some income and put aside something for my retirement and periods of illness. The public is extremely well served by lawyers like me, and very badly served by the greedy assembly line lawyers and by the lawyers who would be given billing targets by remote profit-seeking investors where the clients are ushered out the door as fast as possible. Nuts to that.
  • Bradley Wright
    With respect, Paul, you know less about the practice of law, and I know more about business, than you think. I am not scared about losing power; I am concerned about the inevitable harms to the public if profit-seeking investors become owners. Like all supporters of this terribleidea, you ignore the evidence against it, e.g., the high cost low service world of US conveyancing brought about by nonlawyers taking it over and the accelerating cartelization occurring in the UK. The investors will increasingly change the ethos of legal practice in their financial self-interest - the only interest they have. Law firms are mostly well-managed. We fail with far less frequency that non-law businesses. For every Heenan Blaikie, there are many more corporate failures, and HB did not fail because they were not an ABS. ABS is supported by the unwise or the greedy or both, and by people willing to sacrifice areas of practice that are not their own. Sell to you and multinational profiteers? No thanks.
  • Bradley Wright
    Paul, the LSUC has NOT opened the door to others owning law firms. The matter is in a consultation phase. If wisdom and the public interest prevail over myopia, the desire of some to cling to bad stances taken publicly but too soon, and the self-interest of the few, then the disease of non-lawyer ownership of law firms will be stamped out. The Americans have rejected it. In Aus and the UK, the governments first killed self-regulation for reasons not applicable here, and then further weakened the legal profession by letting profiteers buy ever larger swathes of the profession. Since then, the profiteers have been on an orgy of swallowing competition. What will be the inevitable impact of that on the public? Whenever major areas of law have been taken from the legal profession (real estate in the US, refinances in Ontario), the public has been harmed. Whenever greedy/foolish lawyers have tried to turn tricky areas of law into commodities, the public has been harmed. You want that?
  • Paul Lambe
    You also don't know what you are, a client will walk into your office with a perfectly filled out questionnaire, you will give it to a $25/hr legal assistant to pull clauses out of a template system, put it together, churn it out to the client and charge $800, when you have spent 15 minutes on the file. The public is well served again!!
  • Bradley Wright
    Paul, of course you, who knows so little about law, would like to buy a law firm, but would that be good for the public? Adding layers of overhead and investors to pay forever harms the public good. The US title insurance industry killed off real estate lawyers with unfair pricing and then, having taken over the market, they now overcharge and underserve the public. That is why reputable commentators in the US call that industry "dysfunctional" and "invidious". Do you want high cost low service here? The UK experience has been accelerating consolidations of ownership with no public benefit. As for Xcess, do you know their internal standards? At the prices they charge, they will pay low salaries and attract bottom lawyers. Loss leaders work in grocery stores; they are a downward slide for important services such as wills and real estate law. Lawyers who think those two areas can be done on the cheap by inattentive minions are either greedy or uneducated. The public is ill-served.
  • Paul Lambe
    I know enough about law. I have been surrounded by lawyers my whole business life and I am an avid reader. I have read more law than half those practicing.
    You do not know about business, and you are scared your power will be taken away. A properly managed business is good for the public. Get lawyers doing legal work, leave the management, administration and office tasks to someone else.
  • Bradley Wright
    Mr. Lambe, do you practice law and, if so, what areas? $99 or loss leader wills and cut-rate real estate fees cause far more problems than they solve. People duped into using such "lawyers" are taking a high risk of future trouble; therefore, they should buy insurance against that risk, and if they can afford to buy such insurance, they can afford to pay an affordable, highly competitive fee to a lawyer who actually does the work properly. Note that title insurance does not qualify for this purpose as it is accurately described by the Gov of California and the SC of Iowa as "dysfunctional" and "invidious" respectively. A worse, more uselessly expensive and harmful industry, outside of those pushing tobacco, highly caffeinated drinks and the like, is hard to find. Lawyers who rely on title insurance to avoid doing the file properly are extremely foolish. They tend to be poorly schooled, or greedy assembly line types, but they are foolish. Two university degrees and no brains.
  • Paul Lambe
    I have been in practice management and business development.
    Do you know what a 'loss leader' is? Do you know if they lose money on these while being compliant, and then direct other business to the main office will they be profitable? Call the LSUC if you think what they are doing is wrong, they have a great complaint management program, I have used it many times.
    Do you know the business processes they use? Do you know what training and guidance they give to their new lawyers who handle most of this volume? Do you know that Axcess Law has received so much attention on this business venture that their main office telephones don't stop ringing? Wouldn't you love that? Can you open your mind to new ideas, or be stuck in the old ways? I also love the fact that the LSUC have opened the door to others owing law firms, I may buy one myself!!
  • Paul Lambe
    It's a great business idea.

    'Intake' centres, send 90% of your intake back to the main office. Provide 10% with boiler plate wills and real estate documents. It's not hard to see that this 10% as a loss leader will gather a lot of other business for this firm's lawyers.

    If anyone has spent any time on 'Practice Management' you will realize that your time is best spent doing good legal work and delegating other tasks to assistants and other staff. So it's this 'systematizing the processes' and remaining compliant that remains the challenge.

    If you can not do it, why bash someone smart enough who can do it?

    DoctorEstate
  • susan chow
    First of all, I've seen these so called 'wills'. They look like they just bought one of those will kits online and filled it out for the customers. Its so basic, that i can't imagine its legitimate. My cousin got one done this past summer, and we compared it to my will, which I had done a few years back, and the level of depth in my will, compared to this walmart will is night and day. My lawyer took into consideration tax implications, among other concerns, and this walmart legal chain doesn't do anything. Needless to say, my cousin got their will redone properly. It doesn't make sense trying to save a hundred bucks, when in the end its completely ineffective. And by the way, he paid closer to $300 with the powers of attorney. So spend the $700 or $800 and do it properly. You get what you pay for. Stay away from this 'deal', because sooner or later they'll be on clearance and out of business.
  • Sarah Anderson
    I'm curious about what they pay the lawyers. The 99 dollar will could be a loss leader.
  • Bradley Wright
    First, wills from careful lawyers are already cheap, not Cadillacs. Virtually everyone can afford the cost of a normal will - one of the lowest cost legal services available and the best value for money of all legal services. Second, the purpose of good wills is to save our clients money and grief. Bad wills are often worse and costlier than no wills at all. Assembly line wills raise the odds of bad wills. Using the car analogy, bad wills are like buying a cheap car only to end up paying more in repairs than a good car would have cost in the first place.

    Solicitors practice prevention law. We save our clients money and delays. Barristers practice cure law - something has gone wrong in someone's life and a litigious battle is needed to resolve it. Solicitor services are inexpensive;barrister services are an arm and a leg. There is no access to justice problem on the solicitor side of the equation - it is almost entirely a litigation side problem.
  • Adrian Thomas
    This whole thing has a high ick factor. I reject the idea that there's such a thing as a one size fits all boilerplate legal document of ANY sort. No matter how carefully you craft your intake forms or template docs, there's nothing that can replace the value of an experienced, focused, careful lawyer who will give proper attention and diligence to preparing your legal documents. Setting up a practice that necessarily relies on high turnaround to meet overhead by charging dirt cheap rates like $99 for a will sets off alarm bells. As a client I would not use such a service. It sets the scene for too many things to go wrong or get missed. If you are meeting a lawyer that is just (mindlessly) running you through a checklist, how can you have the peace of mind that all matters have been addressed properly? I don't like this, and I wouldn't use it, or use a similar set up for any professional service, be it medicine, accounting or law.
  • Jay Scott
    Good for you. Personally, I don't like to shop at Wal-Mart, so I usually go elsewhere and pay more. But insisting that everyone ELSE go someplace more expensive because Wal-Mart doesn't meet MY standards is not my place.
    .
    It's presumptuous, at the very least, to say that people who don't feel they can afford normal prices shouldn't be able to get something for a discount, because the discount product doesn't meet your standards.
    .
    There are some things I pay more for, because they are more important to me. There are some things I want to get as cheaply as possible, because they are less important to me, and I want to have more $$ left for the things that are more important. I assume everyone reading this is the same in this regard. I understand perfectly that others have different priorities.
    .
    I am sure people who make Cadillacs feel that anything less is a bad idea; I just don't want to be required to buy one.
  • Jay Scott
    It seems many are (willfully?) not getting the point here.

    Let me try to simplify:

    If there's ANYTHING in your situation that makes a non-trivial deviation from the boilerplate necessary, you will NOT get a will for $99.

    OF COURSE, there are many conditions to invalidate a 99% boilerplate will; probably half have one. But the OTHER half have a situation simple enough that they COULD use a simple will. And most, today, have NO will, because they don't see the value in a $400+ one.

    Is it less bad to let those people die intestate, or to provide them with a simple, one-size-fits-all will that will serve them and society better than none?

    It depends on proper screening of clients, to eliminate inappropriate clients. If screened well, a huge burden can be lifted from society. How is that bad?

    If you insist on all having a "proper" will, find a better way to help people get one. Or, please stop whining.
  • Barbara Morgan
    Doing matters properly is always front end loaded. I cannot accept that a will, properly done, can be charged out at $99.99 plus tax. What if you have an elderly client: you must assess competency, meeting with the client will frequently require more time to accommodate their needs and ensure a proper explanation and clear understanding of the document(s) they are signing. Perhaps I take too long with elderly clients but I find that I am often meeting with them for well over 60 minutes, at least twice (once to take instructions the second time to review the Will and ensure they understand what they are signing). There is absolutely no way I could prepare a proper Will pay my overhead with a charge of $99.99 for a Will. As an experienced lawyer once told me, "There is good, fast and cheap and you cannot have all three..."
  • Bradley Wright
    The people who think wills can be done properly for $99 including overhead are people who do not do wills law. David Conn, BARRISTER, with all due respect, is an example of that. Most litigation files could be and should resolved in the first month. No need for three years and $40,000 to $80,000. Surely that's right?
  • AllaListenun Garland
    I'd guess all but one of the above posts are by lawyers. Just listen to the squeals of indignation that someone has found way to deliver their boiler plate products for a competitive price. As usual, all the vested interests are claiming that this will hurt their "professionalism". Poppycock! Believe it or not, the objective should not be to "help the profession". Maybe helping the consumer might enter your protectionist minds.
  • Bruce Callaghan
    You cannot do a proper job for $99.99...

    It is impossible to meet with clients, give advice, get instructions, draft the will, provide a draft for review and corrections, and meet the clients to execute a copy for that rate (unless the lawyer is passing this off to a non-lawyer).

    This race to the bottom does nothing to help the profession.
  • Bruce Forth
    Subtract the overhead costs of running a law office, and we are reducing ourselves to making less than minimum wage at these prices, if, in fact, a lawyer is properly overseeing the file, actually meeting the clients, and abiding by what we are continually told by LSUC as to our professional obligations on a will or real estate file.
  • William C. Draimin
    If document generation isn't a major part of proper legal work, one should speak to the Law Society. Kudos to Gerald Swaye.
  • Albin Foro
    Law is patently obvious and commoditized right up to the minute it is not. One fears for sad sacks getting boilerplate legal arrangements at a discount, then paying dearly when they are tested.
  • David Conn,Barrister
    You cannot do "proper legal work" for $99.00 plus tax. It appears that our MBA programs don't teach that simple concept. Thanks also to Bencher Gerald Swaye for the understatement of the year.
  • Jay Scott
    [quote name="David Conn,Barrister"]You cannot do "proper legal work" for $99.00 plus tax... Thanks also to Bencher Gerald Swaye for the understatement of the year.[/quote]

    If you have so little imagination or organizational and technical acumen that you believe it's impossible to provide a proper simple will for $99, then you should indeed leave it to people who are smarter than you.

    Your eagerness to join Swaye in insisting that your "professionalism" is more important than providing a simple service to people who need it at a fair price would be very sad, if it were not so laughable.
  • Jay Scott
    [quote name="David Conn,Barrister"]You cannot do "proper legal work" for $99.00 plus tax... Thanks also to Bencher Gerald Swaye for the understatement of the year.[/quote]
    If you have so little imagination or organizational and technical acumen that you believe it's impossible to provide a proper simple will for $99, then you should leave it to people who are smarter than you.

    And your willingness to join Swaye in insisting that your "professionalism" is more important than providing a simple service at a fair price would be very sad, if it were not so comical.
  • Bradley Wright
    It is NOT the case that the consultations are limited to choosing one of four ABS options (AKA the Blunder of the Century). The membership also has the option of rejecting ABS outright as the Americans have wisely and forcefully done. The Walmart locations are normal law offices, owned and operated by lawyers (who wish to skim the cream while leaving anything other than simple documents for better lawyers to handle). They are NOT a result of ABS which would cost us ownership of the profession and compromise our independence. The Walmart location scheme shows that ABS is not necessary to put lawyers next to groceries on a fake access to justice basis (they don't even offer litigation which is where the A2J problems exist). Our current model suffices. With such low initial prices, they will up-sell to cover the high overhead of having to staff the offices during Walmart hours, or they will have to do such high volume that they will not be able to serve the clients properly.
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