I believe lawyers can reach more people, expand access to justice, and improve their practices by publishing books.
Of course, lawyers have been publishing books to market themselves for a long time. I have an example on my shelf: Your Life, Your Legacy: The Fundamentals of Effective Estate Planning. It looks like it was designed by a lawyer. In the ’90s. It contains 18 chapters on everything from powers of attorney to trust administration. It hasn’t been updated since 2009. Although the back cover lists a price of $19.95, I doubt anyone has paid a nickel for it.
That’s not what I’m talking about. Books by lawyers can be so much more than a dictated free consultation.
I’ve been thinking about this lately in my own practice. I’ve found a need in my area for estate planning that is both good and simple. That combination is surprisingly hard for a consumer to find. You can get basic and cheap service from LegalZoom or an attorney who doesn’t specialize in estate planning; or you can get excellent, expensive service from an attorney who does. The middle is largely unoccupied, but it’s what most people need.
I keep thinking about a conversation I had with a local criminal defense attorney. I mentioned I was volunteering with a Wills for Heroes event, which provides free, simple estate planning to first responders. He thought, why just first responders? Why can’t we do the same thing for teachers, nurses, janitors—everyone?
The answer, of course, is it would be a logistical and economic nightmare to give everyone free estate planning through local, volunteer, one-day events. But what if we started smaller? What if we did something that doesn’t require one-on-one time with an attorney?
I believe in the creative power of the written word. Combine it with technology and it’s even more powerful. What would happen if we applied that power to the simplest unit of estate planning: the health care directive?
A health care directive is something everyone should have. Free forms with instructions are available online from state agencies and nonprofits. Yet more than 60% of adults don’t have one. That can only mean one thing: we lawyers have dropped the ball.
So here’s my idea. Don’t just make a fill-in-the-blanks form with some instructions. Make an entire book about health care directives. Answer all the questions. Help readers make informed decisions using data and commentary from health care professionals. Make the case for why the reader should get a health care directive, then make it as easy as possible to do it.
Make the book free. Put it online to make it even more accessible and up-to-date. Add video and audio.
Then integrate document assembly. Make it so the reader can fill in fields, jump right to the information they need when they get stuck, and then push one button to get a ready-to-execute document. Maybe use a chatbot to make it even more user-friendly.
I think this sort of guide would be helpful—far more helpful than the jumble of forms, instructions, and PDFs out there now. So I’ve started work on it. I have a vision, but I don’t know how it will take shape. I just know we have to do better. I believe in the power of the written word to help people, and I hope this guide will be proof that we lawyers can accomplish so much more with it.