Joplin attorneys Austin Knoblock and Scott McCreevy are proud to say their hourly rate is $139.
On Sept. 1, they opened Access to Justice Attorneys at Law, a firm that aims to make legal services more affordable for more people. They say their embrace of technology, as well as eschewing the traditional law firm model, helps them pass on savings to clients.
“Who the hell can afford $225 an hour?” McGreevy said.
That figure is just below the median rate of $250 an hour outside of St. Louis and Kansas City, according to data collected and analyzed in Missouri Lawyers Weekly’s 2018 Billing Rates section. Data specific to Joplin was not available.
Already, the new firm has represented clients in three criminal trials, securing two acquittals for clients and averting the equivalent of about 180 years’ imprisonment. Their practice also includes family law, traffic law, general civil litigation, consumer and employment law, and landlord-tenant law.
McGreevy, a St. Louis native, previously served as a prosecutor for the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe of South Dakota for two and a half years. He came to Joplin to live closer to his daughter.
The two met while they both were working at the Elizabeth Turner Law Firm in Joplin. Knoblock is from Yates Center, Kansas.
Both attorneys graduated from the University of Kansas School of Law. They attended the university at the same time but didn’t know each other then.
McGreevy said the two began to have conversations about starting their own firm, and both had an interest in providing affordable legal services in their community.
The two said they are able to offer such a relatively low rate by improving efficiency, having a low overhead and ensuring their clients’ cases are moving forward.
Knoblock said the concept is to “invest in the technology early, get in and get cases moving instead of continuing them.”
For example, the two point to their use of LexisNexis for research. The firm also has adopted Clio case- and practice-management software that allows the attorneys to handle client care, calendars and the payment process all in one place.
“We chose two companies, and they cover pretty much any need a firm could have,” Knoblock said.
They’ve also created a “form bank” — a collection of standard legal documents for a variety of practice areas, which enables them to draft documents more quickly. Using those tools helps them to pass on savings to their clients, they said.
“We notice that other firms don’t do that,” McGreevy said. “They look at every opportunity to bill, bill, bill. I think that gives a negative impression of attorneys.”
Knoblock said avoiding the traditional partnership model, in which firm owners take a large percent of client fees, also helps to keep their fees low.
“Austin and I don’t have a real need to drive a Mercedes at this point,” McGreevy said. “A lot of attorneys have that avatar, and we don’t buy into that. We are who we are.”
McGreevy said people don’t always realize the two of them are attorneys.
“We both grew up relatively poor [for] the majority of our lives. We still know what that’s like,” he said.
Before starting the firm, McGreevy said he and Knoblock talked about disruption in other industries, pointing to companies such as Blockbuster and Circuit City.
“The traditional law firm is not immune to being flipped on its head,” he said. “Austin and I like to ask why — why did these things happen? If these traditional law firms aren’t listening to clients, I think they are going to go the way of the Titanic.”
The two say they’re in a proof-of-concept phase — they’re determining if their model holds up for the long term. McGreevy said the firm is cash-flow positive at present, and if that continues for the next six to nine months, they’ll see it as a viable model.
They said could not have started the firm without the support of their families.
“Not that attorneys don’t do this, but we really get invested into our client’s lives, try to put ourselves in their shoes,” McGreevy said. “We try to understand their situation and try to treat that situation as if it’s our own, which can be emotionally draining. We’re both married with children, and it’d be very tough for us without their support.”