rom its beginnings after World War II, franchising in America has exploded into a $1.53 trillion industry that employs an estimated 10 million people and sells everything from hamburgers to eyeglasses. But can you franchise the law?
Eight years ago, Mr. Hughes opened a cafe called Legal Grind in Santa Monica, Calif. Every weekday and Saturday afternoon, lawyers arrive at the cafe – which offers legal advice in addition to coffee – to make themselves available to customers for about 15 minutes for a $25 fee.
Now, Mr. Hughes wants to franchise Legal Grind to other lawyers and even paralegals, and not only in California. He has hired a consultant and has talked with dozens of lawyers, but has yet to raise capital for an expansion or to fill out paperwork required by the federal government and the State of California.
Lawyers who give advice at Legal Grind tend to be young and searching for clients. James Orland, 36, arrived at Legal Grind two years ago when he started a law practice, and now appears at the cafe two afternoons a month. Mr. Orland says he has gotten at least 15 percent of his clients from Legal Grind.
In Santa Monica, customers at Legal Grind can pay $25 for advice on landlord-tenant disputes, employment rights and personal injury cases, and business disputes on the first and third Mondays of the month. Other days are set aside for bankruptcy cases, civil suits, drunken driving offenses and many other categories. Document preparation services are also offered at the cafe.
When customers pay for advice, Legal Grind keeps the $25, and if a lawyer is retained, the cafe earns from 15 percent to 33 percent of the billings.
The charges for the cafe’s services are listed on its menus alongside the prices for its coffee drinks, which have names like Law’ttes and Cop’uccinos and sell for $1 to $3. For $600, customers can buy completed documents for an uncontested divorce and for $200, they can purchase paperwork for changing their names.
Last year, Mr. Hughes opened a second Legal Grind cafe in Inglewood, Calif. The Inglewood site sells coffee and offers legal advice, but leaves document preparation to a separate business in the same building.
Legal Grind’s revenue at the Santa Monica site totaled about $135,000 last year, with about $50,000 coming from referrals and document preparation each and the remainder coming from counseling fees and sales of coffee and self-help books.