Market cc by Christopher Matson

About 10 years ago there was a strong feeling in the legal profession that selling legal services and documents online was going to be one of the big features of the future. I set up a section on my website for this topic at www.venables.co.uk/selling.htm with subdivisions for firms of solicitors doing this, companies doing this, and various other aspects of online activity including referral and marketing panels, and price and service comparison sites.

However, far from growing steadily, this first section in particular has struggled to add new firms and indeed, many of the firms originally doing this have now stopped doing so. There are now fewer than 20 firms that appear to be doing this and, in many of these cases, the services offered are very limited in scope and are certainly not the main means by which they are delivering their legal services.

Why has this aspect of legal services failed to grow?

  • It is technically difficult. Sophisticated software is needed to ask the right questions and then incorporate the answers into the right legal processes, or further questions, or documents.
  • It is risky. Unless a solicitor monitors the process of each transaction very carefully, it is always possible that the client could do the wrong thing and then blame the firm. Even if sufficient disclaimers are built into the process, arguments about this do not lead to good publicity and indeed, too many disclaimers can discourage the client from starting the process. And you really do not expect disclaimers from a firm of solicitors.
  • It is not very profitable. It is generally the “simpler” legal processes which are offered online which are often the least profitable in the firm anyway. By the time a lower price is quoted for the online process, the profit margin is probably very low and, bearing in mind the points 1 and 2 above, may be almost non-existent.
  • It leads to arguments with “normal” clients! “If you can offer employment documents for £X online, why should I pay twice as much for the same thing, produced in the conventional way?” Or even “I will do it online and save myself lots of money”.

Companies set up for the purpose of providing online legal processes and documents are not falling away to the same extent, and I will be writing about these companies for the May/June issue of the Newsletter. Generally, a company is specialising in just one type of legal activity (eg conveyancing or undefended divorce) so has just one type of automatic process to develop and maintain, rather than the many legal areas which most firms of solicitors offer. By focusing on one area, they can also hope for a good market share, indeed taking business from firms of solicitors. Finally, their customers (not clients) are perhaps less put off by disclaimers. They expect it.

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) by firms of solicitors is developing fast, but this is generally used internally, by the lawyers, to speed up particular legal processes and not presented to the client as an online process. Indeed, the lawyer may not want the client to know that he/she has been using AI on the case. These two approaches may come together at some point in the future; it is certainly a field to watch.

Firms providing legal services or documents online

Adapted from my page www.venables.co.uk/selling1.htm.

Briffa provides two online insurance products. DesignProtect offers cost-effective legal insurance for a company’s designs. These may include textiles, fabrics, prints, garments, footwear, accessories or 3D objects. The insurance covers a proportion of the client’s legal costs of bringing an action in the UK against anyone who has wrongfully copied any of the designs and defending an action or counterclaim in the UK which seeks to revoke those rights. BrandProtect is a cost effective way of protecting all the client’s brands by providing access to specialist lawyers and a fighting fund for a payment of just £190 including VAT per mark per year. Members are given advice on any dispute concerning the trade marks that are covered and access to a fighting fund of up to £100,000.

Busbys offer a facility for grant of probate applications. Clients can complete an application form available on the site by answering a series of questions online and send it to the firm by e-mail. The Head of the Probate Department checks the form and sends back the official documents for the person to sign and swear. Busbys then make the necessary application on behalf of the client and obtain the documents which the client will need, all at a fixed price of £350 plus VAT and disbursements. There is lots of useful information about the process on the site as well.

Fidler & Pepper offer legalmove.com for online conveyancing with fixed prices, quotes online, 24 hour access to details of the file, telephone support (if needed) 7 days a week and online updates as the case progresses.

Gateway2Law, developed by Welsh firm Watkins and Gunn is a software tool which provides guidance, supported by short videos, to identify the user’s legal problem and then offers a bespoke legal solution at an affordable price. Many legal areas are covered in their question and answer approach.

Hallett Employment Law Services, Lutterworth, Leicestershire, offer a large number of free factsheets on their site on a whole range of employment law topics. They also provide documents for sale on their site, aimed at small/medium sized businesses and individuals. These documents cover issues like redundancy and disciplinary procedures and various policies, such as ones dealing with smoking, use of IT email and internet, and harassment and bullying. Prices start from under £5.

Intelligent Divorce helps individuals or couples come to a financial settlement in their divorce by assembling their financial and background information and then providing a neutral, expert opinion from a specialist family barrister at a leading chambers. The service has been set up by two family lawyers, James Roberts, a barrister at 1 Kings Bench Walk, and Mahie Abey, Head of Family Law at Dawson Hart solicitors in East Sussex. The use of the forms and website is free, but at the point that they want to submit the information to the barrister, a fee is payable. The cost for using the solo service is £718.80 (inc VAT) while the service for both parties is £1,198 (inc VAT). Court fees are also payable as needed: £50 to lodge the financial order and £550 for the actual divorce.

Irwin Mitchell, Birmingham, Leeds, London, Newcastle and Sheffield, sell a number of legal services from their site (you have to search for “commoditised services”) including will creation, change of name, debt recovery service, employment advice service and VAT solutions for the construction industry.

justdivorce.co.uk comes from Josiah-Lake Gardiner, Solicitors, in the City of London. The site provides a great deal of useful information on divorce topics. They provide a fixed fee online undefended divorce at £269, a financial clean break order service at £299 and various other divorce related services. They also give information on the other costs involved in a divorce unrelated to solicitors’ fees, eg court fees.

myhrtoolkit is software designed for small and medium sized businesses to streamline the HR function with easy-to-use human resources tools, now used by 30,000 people. It is a cloud system so you can access it wherever you are. Holiday requests, absence management, appraisals, tasks, reports, HR documents, messaging and reminder notifications can all be managed online. There is a very good video on the site to show you how it works. Ironmonger Curtis employment law partner Jon Curtis is also the Managing Director of this software which is sold nationally by HR and employment law professionals.

My Scottish Divorce from Georgesons provides an online divorce process “Where you have agreed everything beforehand but there are children under 16. To protect the children, no divorce will be granted by a Sheriff until he or she is assured that the welfare of the children has been safeguarded. A Solicitor is required and it involves an undefended court action under the affidavit procedure (which requires sworn statements from the witnesses but does not require them to attend court).” The firm also provides sites for My Scottish Will and My Scottish Power of Attorney. There is also a useful blog My Scottish Law blog from solicitor Bruce de Wert, covering all these topics.

Nelsons Online is the online document-producing site for Nelsons Solicitors. They provide over 200 customisable online legal documents with many personal and business legal issues covered. They provide step by step guidance to the process and many of the documents include a lawyer review. The documents are created by Rapidocs developed by epoq.

probatesdirect.co.uk comes from solicitors Chadwick Lawrence and covers the issues surrounding bereavement and offers a service for applying for a grant of probate on-line, starting at £250 plus VAT. There is also information on dealing with the registrar, meeting the funeral expenses and arranging the funeral. Legal guidance is also available with advice on who to call for more help and there is a set of links to a wide range of support organisations.

Slater & Gordon provide a wide variety of documents online via this special site, some of which can be downloaded and used straight away, and others which can be reviewed by the firm. Documents available include personal services, workplace, wills and probate, prenuptials and living together, powers of attorney, personal finance, motoring, landlords, divorce, complaints and disputes, buying and selling and building work. The user can track the progress of the document using a unique login, contact the firm for more personal advice and assistance and switch to a normal client/lawyer relationship or can blend these processes together. The documents are created by Rapidocs developed by epoq.

Stephensons Solicitors offer a wide range of online documents in relation to wills and probate and lasting powers of attorney. The service enables the user to have their self-assembled document checked by lawyers to ensure that it is completed correctly and there is a free law guide providing background information to the form. Stephensons also offer clients various fixed price services, which are often a blend of online facilities and personal attention. Appointments can be made to discuss issues, either face to face or over the telephone. The documents are created by Rapidocs developed by epoq.

Trademark Hub is a trading name for the Intellectual Property Department of London solicitors Freeman Harris. They provide an online trade mark registration service. The user can register their trade mark in the UK or EU by completing an easy six-step process. Prices start from £199 and the process is assisted by qualified trade mark attorneys. You can conduct a free trade mark search online without providing any details and also obtain free advice.

trademarkdesignprotection is a service from Forde Campbell, Solicitors of Downpatrick, Co. Down. The site offers a free trademark search which checks both the UK and OHIM (EU) Trademark Registry Databases along with free legal advice in relation to registration of trademarks and designs in the United Kingdom and EU with an extensive FAQ section. Other services are available for a fee. Forde Campbell advise clients both in the UK and the EU.

Woolley & Co offer fixed fee family law services including a fixed fee divorce which can be paid for online. Having paid online the client is then allocated an experienced family lawyer to handle their case and the case is run as normal with email and telephone correspondence. The following types of fixed fee services can be purchased: divorce (if you are divorcing someone), divorce (if someone is divorcing you), expat divorce / non UK divorce (if you are divorcing someone), expat divorce / non UK divorce (if someone is divorcing you), living together agreement, parental responsibility agreement, prenuptial agreement, separation agreement and annulment.

Yuill & Kyle, Glasgow, provide pre-litigation services and fast track recoveries for Scottish debt collection with instructions taken directly online.

Delia Venables is joint editor of the Newsletter. Email delia@venables.co.uk. Twitter @deliavenables.

Image cc by Christopher Matson on Flickr.

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