LegalZoom Offers Free Legal Service to Patients Rising Members. Just Don’t Call It Pro Bono.

Online legal service provider LegalZoom has announced a partnership with non-profit patient advocacy organization Patients Rising whereby patients with life threatening diseases will get access to free legal, financial, insurance, and tax services. The offering will begin over the next few months.

Announced June 1, the partnership represents an expansion of LegalZoom’s Lifeplan service—an employee benefit product that connects users to legal, financial, tax and insurance advice—to also cover those that register through Patients Rising. Up until now, the product was solely offered to employers.

Patients Rising members will be able find, schedule and talk with attorneys and other professionals through the Lifeplan platform free of charge. However, Dave Freedman, general manager of LegalZoom Lifeplan, noted that the attorneys and other professionals will not technically be performing traditional pro-bono services. “They are part of the LegalZoom network and compensated through sort of our standard LegalZoom Lifeplan arrangement,” he said.

The advice Patients Rising members can access through Lifeplan is also not restricted solely to issues that pertain to their current health and financial situation. “We support them in their everyday life,” Freedman said.  Still, transactional services such as contract drafting are not offered free as part of the partnership, though they are discounted for Patients Rising members.

LegalZoom’s new Lifeplan product and move to provide no cost services to patients comes as other on-demand online legal service providers are also evolving their business following a rocky reception by state bar associations concerned over issues of fee-splitting and referrals.

In June 2017, the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics, Committee on Attorney Advertising, and Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law barred unregistered on-demand legal services companies from operating within the state. The state’s Supreme Court has since declined to review the order.

What’s more, other state bar associations, such as those in New York and Pennsylvania, have declared that the fee structure of such companies violate their ethics rules.

Following their initial troubles, online service providers have been broadening their offerings. In January 2018, for instance, Avvo was acquired by media and software services organization Internet Brands, a move that Avvo CEO Mark Britton believes will help the company grow its service and customer base.

To be sure, despite resistance from state bar associations, online legal services providers are among the popular legal tech companies in the market. A recent report sponsored by LegalShield found that LegalZoom was the most commonly used legal services app.

For LegalZoom, a partnership with Patients Rising represented an opportunity to build on this recognition. “This is very much push for us to reach more people,” Freedman said. He added, “With Patients Rising in particular, you take a group of people who have immediate needs, and that is where we thought there was a lot of opportunity to help.”