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Thursday, 8 November 2012

The American take on online legal services

I read with interest and some dismay this article in the Wall Street Journal on American lawyers' responses to emerging online legal services.  The comments the article attracted, particularly the first comment, missed the point spectacularly, so I have written this to the author of the article to provide a different perspective:
"I read with interest your article on virtual lawyers.  I am a solicitor in the UK who has for years provided workflow systems for law firms, because in practice a lot of the work that a client pays for is pure process that does not warrant the substantial hourly rate across the board.  Last year I launched direct to the public Road Traffic Representation (RTR), an online legal advice and representation service for persons charged with motoring offences. 

"RTR uses artificial intelligence to analyse details of the offence and the motorist’s driving record and advice on likely penalties if convicted and potential defences.  The model took a couple of years to construct, compiling questions that a lawyer would ask a client face to face and responding to the answers.  This routine of taking instructions is pure process and the dispensation of the advice is a modern way of translating the law into the client’s circumstances.  It is all provided free of charge.  The client then has the option to pay for what is of real value to him, namely representation in court.  The brief to Counsel is generated automatically from the data collected from the site in the virtual interview process.  Should the client require the comfort of one to one advice to supplement the free online advice, a fixed fee of £35 (including VAT) buys telephone advice from a lawyer for an unlimited period of time.  The advice is noted on the client’s secure part of the website and forms part of the brief to Counsel if the client seeks representation.
"I intend extending this model to many other areas of the law.  I believe that delivery of legal services in this way will become the norm in the near future.  Centuries ago we paid scribes to read and write for us.  Our children, let alone our grandchildren, will marvel at why we paid lawyers to tell us what the law says.  Meanwhile, I was disappointed but not entirely surprised to see the first commentator on your article focus on cheque fraud.  Why on earth anyone would think of marrying a cheque payment process to an online service is beyond me.  Secure online payment systems suit online services.  More importantly, the comment demonstrates the mind set of many lawyers burying their heads in the sand and thinking that their world is not going to change in the same way that everyone else’s has and will continue to do, only a great deal more rapidly."

I will be fascinated to see whether this response is aired publicly in the WSJ and if so, how it is received!

1 comment:

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