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Westminster debates technology innovation in legal services

I recently spoke at the latest Westminster Legal Policy Forum on how technology can make the law simple and affordable. This was to an audience of politicians, civil servants, lawyers, tech companies, and the press. I wanted to give a market perspective to the debate on access to justice and explain how the web and smart technology can make the law more affordable and accessible.

Following the keynote by Professor Richard Susskind on the evolving legal market place, I kicked off the panel on Technological Innovation and Online Services, which was chaired by Jonathan Djanogly MP. The panel included Neil Rose, Editor of Legal Futures and Steve Brooker, Consumer Panel Manager at the Legal Services Consumer Panel.

A full transcript of the event, titled Innovation in Legal Services – Technology, Skills and New Business Models is available from the Westminster Forum Projects site.

And here’s a summary of my speech.

Rocket Lawyer is a San Francisco tech company. We have been in the US for about five years providing online legal services, and we launched last November in the UK. We are committed to making the law simple and affordable for all and we believe that smart technology and the web enable us to do that.

We primarily do this by through a ‘do it with me’ approach, as we call it, and at the heart of this approach is our automated document assembly technology. You can go online and create your own legal documents and if you need more help then you can work with a lawyer to complete them. We connect you with an appropriate lawyer and you work with them efficiently online on that document, or on any other legal matter, and at discounted rates. We find this gives people better choice: better product choice and better price choice.

So why are we doing this? Firstly, it’s a given that the consumers and the small businesses that we aim to help are underserved; that’s why the Legal Services Act was created to provide better access and provide more choice, more variety of choice.

More generally though, what’s wanted across markets these days from consumers and small businesses? Customers want convenience, they want immediacy, they want product and price options, and they are not consistently getting those at the moment from legal service providers.

From research we carried out last year with focus groups as we were getting prepared to launch our website, we found that the top three things people were looking for and weren’t getting consistently were transparency of the costs that they were going to be paying; transparency of the process that they are going through with the lawyer they have engaged, and responsiveness from the lawyer, in other words timely responses to queries and on progress. We believe that smart, online services can meet these needs.

Nearly everything is sold online these days. Last time I looked the UK was spending more online per head than any other country in the world, and that is probably still the case. There is a 15% year on year increase in the amount we spend on e-commerce in the UK. Travel, banking, insurance, books, music, food, clothes have all gone online, and so why not legal?

Last year we carried out some research with Peppermint Technology also. Neil Rose from Legal Futures summarised all the responses, and it was found that 53% of consumers wanted to access legal services online, and that this had increased from the year before.

Online access to legal services is desired and is actually happening. Richard Susskind has been heralding its arrival for a long time, and it has now arrived.

Online innovation in the delivery of legal services is happening and we are starting to see the legal industry change. We already have client portals where people can access their matter online to find out what is happening. Automated DIY documents have been around from suppliers like EPOQ for quite a while now. When you put call centres into the mix, you see that wills and probate, debt recovery, and other service have gone virtual and so you get can affordable options.

Rocket Lawyer have about 3 million visitors a month to our website in the US. They are coming to us to get free guidance from our online information. They can also create documents for free. We have a freemium model so you can create your first document for free, and a couple of million people every year take up this offer and create legal documents on our US website. And they regularly connect to and work with lawyers online through our website, and most never meet face to face.

The truth is that online legal services are happening now, and it is unstoppable as Google lines up all the options when you search for them. It is like a virtual legal shopping village where you can go along and shop around and it never closes.

It is not just about getting access to legal services in a convenient way, however. It is also about bringing down the cost of legal services. Smart technology can do that as well as offering genuine new ways of delivering products and services. At Rocket Lawyer UK we have automated the document creation process online through document assembly technology. We use lawyers to do this. We capture their legal knowledge on how they would typically interview a customer, and we make a dynamic interview out of that know-how so that people can go online and be interviewed by the system, and then out the other end comes a legal document tailored to their needs.

We have also automating the finding of lawyers, and working with lawyers, so you can easily go online and find a lawyer that is suitable for your legal issue and then more efficiently work with them online, and through email and video conferencing, as these are all ways to bring down the cost. In short automation is one of the key means for bringing down costs and providing people with more control and choice.

So smart, online technology enables convenience, immediacy, control, and genuine choice in price and products. I think it will reach all areas of law, because consumers, small businesses, medium size companies, and large corporates all want all of these benefits. They all want convenience and they all want the cost benefits that technology brings.

Mark Edwards

Vice President & General Manager UK at Rocket Lawyer
Mark has a decade of experience as an innovator and business leader in the UK legal industry, specialising in creating and growing new businesses based on sound market insight and customer need. As the General Manager of Rocket Lawyer UK, he is focused on growing the business which launched in November 2012.

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