Justis

Electronic evidence cover image

By Stephen Mason and George Weir

To ask the right questions of digital evidence professionals when instructing them, it is incumbent on the lawyer to be aware of what questions to ask. Here we describe the various mechanisms by which evidence in electronic form is adduced into legal proceedings via the worldwide web and internet.

robot1robot2

Recently I encountered a tweet about a “robot lawyer” called LISA and took the bait: “Can someone please explain to me how this differs from document assembly we’ve had for decades? Intelligent? Robot? Lawyer?”

Robot Lawyer LISA is a document assembly tool with a single form (an NDA). For what it is – consumer-facing document assembly – the concept and content are fine relative to what else is available. The claims to be something more – an AI robot lawyer – are absurd. The hyperbole, however, is effective.

Billy Bot Infographic

Billy Bot is the world’s first robotic junior clerk for a barristers’ chambers.

The concept of Billy Bot came out of the huge growth in public access work that now comes directly to barristers. Members of the public can now contact chambers directly to discuss their potential cases with the clerks in chambers. This presents a new difficulty for barristers’ clerks as they need to spend much more time dealing with enquiries from the general public than they do with solicitors or other lawyers (who have a professional understanding of the legal process and requirements) when they contact us to obtain advice or book a barrister for a hearing.

dyno rod

The competitive nature of pay per click advertising opens one potentially lucrative avenue to advertisers: bidding on your competitors’ keywords. Is it worth doing? Let’s explore the options.

You will commonly see advertisers bidding on competitor’s keywords. In the example above, we can see four advertisements for a search for the well-known drains clearing company Dyno Rod. The first ad is Dyno Rod itself, using advertising to protect its brand position.

The adverts in positions 2, 3, and 4 are competitors, leveraging Dyno Rod’s dominant market position to raise their own brand awareness, and potentially encourage searchers to click on their own website instead of going to the Dyno Rod website.

What a silly question, you may be thinking; everyone has to have a website these days. Well yes, everyone has to have to have the basic details of the organisation online, with contact details and something which looks nice. But beyond that?

For many years, I have had a section about the Bar on my own website, at www.venables.co.uk/bar.htm where I provide basic details of several hundred chambers who have told me about their website and given me some information about their organisation. I looked through these recently, to remove the ones no longer in existence, and asked the others to provide updates to their descriptions which many (not all) have done. At the same time, I looked at the websites and tried to work out what they are trying to do with their site.

Hologram 08 by Ian Truelove

The development of the internet has gradually shifted many aspects of modern life from the real, tangible world to a virtual, digital domain: music, films and books are stored in the cloud, social lives are conducted online and bank accounts are managed with apps. As we move towards an increasingly online existence, this raises the question of what happens to all our digital assets and personal data once we die and how these “digital legacies” can be bequeathed.

DoNotPay

In this issue Casey Flaherty forcefully makes the case against the hype surrounding AI and robots in legal, particularly by vendors talking up their own offerings. He is also somewhat sensitive to those who call their offerings “lawyers” when they clearly are not. One such, indeed the one who has claimed “the world’s first robot lawyer” is all-of-20 Joshua Browder, a British student at Stanford University, majoring in Economics and Computer Science. Most of the legal tech press has covered the basics of Joshua’s DoNotPay robot lawyer which started off challenging parking tickets for Joshua and his friends and has now developed into a veritable bot-fest, with over 500 law bots planned in 300 areas of law across US, Canadian and UK jurisdictions.

Businesswoman in Cubicle

Success in business

The ultimate marker of a successful business is the strength of its bottom line. Profitability is everything if you want to survive and thrive. The route to healthy profits is maximising income and minimising costs.

You don’t necessarily need us to tell you about maximising income. Revenue generation is your forte, achieved by good marketing to create new business opportunities in the first place, and even better legal service provision and client care thereafter to secure a stream of repeat and referral business.

Your legal software provider can assist in this area by offering solutions containing features such as automation to reduce your workload, application availability for greater uptime, intuitive time recording to capture more chargeable activity and advanced analytics to monitor performance, to name a few. But that’s not the main focus here. We’re concentrating on minimising costs.

LEAP devices

The continuing advancement of cloud technology and the new ownership regulation means it has never been easier to start a law firm. Mobility, simpler and lower cost technology and widespread acceptance of remote working is motivating legal entrepreneurs wanting to start their own practice.

This Conveyance

It is probably easier for companies to sell legal services and documents online than it is for firms of solicitors. This may seem unfair, given that the ultimate product (eg a divorce or a conveyance) was originally created by lawyers to protect the client. How can it be that non-lawyers can do it better?

In an article that I wrote for the March/April issue of this Newsletter, I described four reasons why I thought it was hard for a firm of solicitors to provide these products or services online. I said that:

  1. These products are technically difficult, requiring sophisticated (and expensive) software to do the job online, and considerable ongoing technical support.
  2. They are inherently risky for the firm in professional terms. Errors or misunderstandings could lead to serious legal problems for the firm – hardly good advertising for the firm.
  3. The relatively “simple” processes offered for online solution are not in any case very profitable, so a great deal of effort could lead to a relatively modest reward.
  4. A cheap online divorce or conveyance (say) is likely to undermine the solicitors “normal” work. A client could well say “Why should I pay a large amount of money for a personally managed divorce when you can provide the same service online for a third of the cost?

Employment tribunal judgments are now available online on GOV.UK at www.gov.uk/employment-tribunal-decisions.

Previously, in order to read a first instance judgment, you had to hope that one of the parties published it or that the judiciary website considered it to be of sufficient importance to publish or to take a trip to the central register and locate it in person.

HACKER_by_Clive_Goddard_for_Berners

Recently, I met a barrister who was handling a case where a website project had gone badly wrong, losing significant sales for the customer who had commissioned it. After comparing war stories, we concluded that a lot more websites go awry than one might realise and that it might be worth sharing some of the horror stories to highlight potential pitfalls and help others to avoid them.

In a profession where only a minority of law firms have a dedicated or experienced marketing manager, the role of project managing the new website often falls to the marketing partner or practice manager. Having never had to commission a website before, they may not be entirely sure what work is involved, how to write an effective brief or how to compare proposals from web agencies, and so it is easy to see how problems might arise.

Given that a law firm website might account for as much as 50 per cent of new business enquiries these days – equivalent to having another office – it can play a critical role in a firm’s business growth.