Sourcing legal advice online is becoming commonplace. Many potential clients will use the web to find a solicitor, and perhaps also to detail their query to the firm chosen. What about the next step, enabling them to complete their own legal documents online, with limited input from the firm consulted? That too is coming, and one Scottish firm has now gone public with the facility.
Tayside solicitors Thorntons has launched Login2Law (www.login2law.co.uk), offering a range of letters and documents that clients can build with varying degrees of professional help. Though the initial publicity presented the service as a bid to encourage more people to make a will, it already covers a much wider range of business, and more is planned to be added.
Solicitor Ewan Miller made the initial contact with Epoq (www.epoq.co.uk), which developed the software, now also in use by three or four firms south of the border. As the legal press recently reported, US firm Legal Zoom, which operates in a similar way, is looking to open in the UK. “Legal Zoom and Rocket Lawyer are the two big ones in the US”, Miller says. “I think our technology is a little more interactive; with Legal Zoom you just fill in a list of questions and someone will email you the document, whereas with ours, you can look at it with a ‘try before you buy’ facility, and you’ll see it assembling before you on the screen.”
In fact, what you see when you access the system is a list of documents alongside different columns headed “self service”, “law firm managed”, and (for individuals) “law firm managed with up to 20 minutes of solicitor’s time”. There are separate pages for businesses and for individuals. Fixed charges are quoted for every service offered. Thorntons is being cautious for the moment about what clients can undertake without further assistance, so the first column is confined to letters such as businesses chasing unpaid invoices, or customers complaining to a hotel, restaurant or builder.
“The self service is the most basic – there is no lawyer review”, Miller explains. “We’re just developing the system; we don’t know yet what’s going to work best. We may extend it into more areas once we become more comfortable and know how easy clients find it to use. ‘Law firm managed’ is where the client completes the document themselves, and we review it and discuss with them whether any changes are needed. That could be simply telephone or email advice. It’s quite difficult to get anything wrong; the system is pretty slick. It’s fairly limited input from us. Then there are those ones where we think people will want to talk to a lawyer for a bit of the time, such as pre-nuptials, or divorce. It’s just to blend in how we manage it – it lets people choose the level of support they feel they need to work the system.”
If matters become more complex, the expectation is that the client will want to consult the firm in the traditional manner.
The Law Society of Scotland has been very supportive, as Miller tells me when I ask how such a system fits in with the client ID and money laundering rules. “Under the new accounts rules, a lot of what we are doing is advice only, therefore it won’t fall within the scope of money laundering. However, the system is hooked into our electronic money laundering system and we will be carrying out random checks. And in some areas we will still be doing full ID processing. But we work very closely with the Society anyway; we’ve had several meetings with Bruce Ritchie, who has been I have to say incredibly helpful and supportive about it. So they’re comfortable that the whole thing is compliant with the rules.”
He adds that clients have to check the box that says they have read the terms of business, in order to use the system. Also, as it includes a billing process, there are no fee collection issues. And there are other efficiencies: “For a lot of these areas it’s not the most remunerative kind of work. You still want to do wills for clients, for example, but what the system does in effect is let us process work more efficiently, and of course we pass on a fair chunk of the cost saving to the client, but it takes away all the hassle of opening files, and collecting finance, sending out terms of business, that’s effectively all been automated.”
The online habit
Though Miller describes the venture as “slightly speculative” for the firm, he is convinced it will prove its worth. A longer running, though less interactive, divorce law site run by the firm has so far attracted interest mainly from expatriate Scots, but is now beginning to pick up; and one early user of the new site was a client from Tiree who saved themselves a four hour trip to consult a solicitor.
“If you go back a few years, no one was booking their holidays through Expedia”, Miller concludes. “Now everyone does it through lastminute.com and Expedia, and we think there are elements of the law that can handle a new channel to provide services. This is one way of doing it, so we’re keen to explore it and see how it works for us.”
In this issue
- Frank Maguire: an appreciation
- The Society's new corporate plan
- Budgeting for 2011-12
- Shooting the carrier
- Future of adventure activities licensing
- A year in mortgage recoveries, and oh what a year!
- A clearer lending code
- Land of myths and (occasional) legends?
- Crofting briefing
- Reading for pleasure
- Book reviews
- Council profile
- President's column
- Foreign and different
- The price is right
- Into his stride
- Do not cross
- All aboard the Land Register
- As easy as 10%?
- Definition under strain
- Another round
- Honest and reasonable?
- Demolition derby 2
- From the other side
- In-house Lawyers Group under review
- Necessary formalities
- Practical limitations
- Remember, remember... the first of November
- "Storm not over yet", Cunningham tells conference
- Constitution: new proposals for AGM
- From the Brussels office
- Screen test
- Ask Ash
- SYLA appeals for advisers
- Full schedule