Illustration of a mobile law office

The 2020 Precedent Innovation Awards: Mobilaw

A mobile law office that provides clients with a safe place to meet their lawyer during the COVID-19 pandemic
Illustration of a mobile law office

Arturo Pugliese comes from a family of entrepreneurs. His father, who owned restaurants and manufacturing companies, taught him that customer service is essential to career success. Pugliese never forgot that lesson. From the moment he founded Audax Law, a commercial- and business-law firm, more than a dozen years ago, he has been driving out to meet clients where they live. It seemed commonsensical that, if someone was unable to drop by his Toronto office, due to illness or disability or work commitments, he would come to them instead. “I’m a natural service provider,” says Pugliese. “It’s been ingrained in me since childhood.”

Arturo Pugliese

Arturo Pugliese

In 2018, he made home visits an official part of his brand. He launched a new company, Mobilaw, to provide simple, personalized legal services — anything related to wills, powers-of-attorney and residential real estate — in a location of the client’s choosing: a living room, a coffee shop, even a hospital bedside. Mobilaw is a separate entity from Audax, but the firms share some resources. Two of the lawyers at Audax, including Pugliese, also work at Mobilaw, and both firms operate out of the same office at Bloor and Islington.

At first, business was slow. (In 2018 and 2019, Mobilaw met with about two clients per week.) Then the pandemic hit and people stopped going out, even to meet with their lawyers. Though temporary policies permitted lawyers to finalize wills and real-estate transactions by video, Pugliese knew that his clients would be best served by in-person meetings. “As a lawyer, I want people to understand exactly what’s going on,” he says. “I want them to look me in the eye and ask as many questions as they’d like.”

Pugliese saw Mobilaw as the solution, but, first, he had to make a few upgrades. He bought a Mercedes- Benz Sprinter crew van and hired contractors to gut the back end and turn it into a pandemic-friendly mobile law office. Now he could meet clients without sacrificing safety.

Adrian Cipollone, a Toronto firefighter, recently hired Pugliese to help finalize the sale of a condominium. Once the Mobilaw van arrived in his driveway, Cipollone entered it via a side door and found himself in a fairly standard office with carpeted floors, plants and abstract paintings on the walls. Pugliese sat on the opposite side of a shared desk, and they passed documents back and forth through an opening in a plexiglass divider. (Masks and gloves were available.) Within half an hour, the transaction was complete.

“It was seamless and easy,” says Cipollone. “And also kind of fun.” Best of all, Cipollone didn’t pay a premium for the service. The cost was the same as it would’ve been if he’d travelled to Pugliese’s office.

Because the van isn’t outfitted with computers or printers, Pugliese does most of the legal work in advance. When drafting a will, for instance, he’ll go through the initial consultation via phone, email or videoconference, then drive out to discuss the final document with the client. He’s had meetings in all kinds of places, including a parking spot outside a bank and a riverside cottage property. On the road, people sometimes spot his van, photograph the “Mobilaw” logo — stencilled in orange block letters along the side — and call to request his services.

At a time when many solicitor-client meetings have moved to Webex or Zoom, Pugliese has, ironically, found a new way to preserve the bespoke culture of the legal industry. “In this profession, face-to-face interactions are so important,” says Pugliese. “I guess you could call me traditional.”

Don’t forget to read about our other Innovation Award winners.

This is a story from our Winter 2020 Issue.

Illustrations by Ashley Wong. Photo by Helen Tansey.