DirectLaw – online document drafting

Directlaw is an online document drafting system which can be set up by firms of solicitors to sell their documents online.

A bit of history

Document drafting systems have been around for at least 15 years and are used by many firms internally to create documents quickly and efficiently. The process is generally under the care and control of fee-earners and the client may not even realise that automatic document generation has been involved. They just receive their document and (generally) pay the fee.

For quite a few years now there have been attempts to make it possible for the document generation to be carried out online, with the end user interactively answering a series of questions which lead to the document being produced.

However, there are many difficulties involved in this process. Many companies have attempted to provide online document generation over the last 10 years, but only a few have stayed the course.

The company behind DirectLaw, Epoq, was established in 1994 and produced a system called Desktop Lawyer, soon thereafter providing document drafting directly to users online. Desktop Lawyer still exists as a standalone service. It was really the original “Tesco Law” development and it is ironic that, despite the massive publicity Tesco received when they introduced the Tesco Legal Store about three years ago, that no longer exists.

Another product offered by Epoq is Rapidocs, document generating software, which has generated a lot of business with (for example) insurance companies and big corporations using it internally for their own legal processes. There is also a service called MyLawyer, which involves bespoke development of online services for some of the big legal firms in the country including Pannone, Brethertons, Nelsons, Hugh James, Thorntons and Wilson Nesbitt.


Now we also have DirectLaw which is aimed at medium sized and smaller firms who are looking for ways to provide cheaper services to the end user (thus not “losing” their clients or potential clients) but who also want to retain a firm control of the quality of the work provided.

Many people do actually want a lawyer involved in their significant life choices, even if they do not like the size of the bill which is often generated. Can the circle be squared? Epoq certainly thinks so, probably because one of the founders of the company, Richard Cohen, is a solicitor, and originally founded the firm of Landau & Cohen Solicitors. In most of its development, Richard Cohen and his brother Grahame Cohen, a technologist, have tried to bring the solicitor and the technology together, rather than trying to use the technology to bypass the solicitor.

How it works

This section was provided by Emma Hopson of Directlaw

At the heart of the DirectLaw solution is Rapidocs, Epoq’s web-enabled document automation system, underpinned by a comprehensive range of legal document libraries. These elements are brought together in web pages created and branded specifically for the law firm by Epoq and seamlessly integrated into the law firm’s own website.

From this page, the law firm’s clients can access the document they require and complete a questionnaire online, the answers to which automatically create a detailed first draft document. Once complete, the draft document is retrieved by the solicitor for review and amendment if required. When the final document has been approved by the solicitor, an email will alert the client who can retrieve the final document online, or go into the firm’s office for a face-to-face meeting if desired. This system offers simple but compelling benefits for both parties. For the client, they can give instructions online to draft a legal document at a time and place convenient to them, but still have access to professional legal expertise and the reassurance that this brings. From the solicitor’s perspective, the time normally spent on drafting the initial document is reduced, freeing up valuable billable hours to be used on more profitable services or new business.

The range of legal documents available through the DirectLaw solution is comprehensive and allows law firms to choose the document libraries most relevant to their practice, including wills and powers of attorney, family law, employment and health and safety, landlord and tenant and business law. Furthermore, DirectLaw offers firms the flexibility to decide the best-fit business model for their practice. This could be an “online store” where clients can purchase documents and advice at a fixed price online using a credit card or using the web page to serve clients more conveniently, but where fees are agreed in advance more traditionally and the client billed once the document has been completed. Either way, DirectLaw is giving law firms the flexibility to respond to client needs, differentiate their practice from others and potentially capture and keep more clients.

DirectLaw is provided as Software as a Service (SaaS), ie the document generation process is hosted by Epoq, so the firm can create an online capability without any major capital investment or having to develop complex software applications or content on their own. Once the requirements for the web page have been agreed, the system takes only a couple of weeks to implement.

A recent survey conducted by YouGov on behalf of Epoq revealed that nearly 60 per cent of consumers expected good law firms to be offering online access to their services within the next couple of years. At the same time, the results of a Ministry of Justice survey in March 2010 show that consumers still depend on and trust solicitors to deal with their legal matters. DirectLaw can help law firms manage both these expectations by enabling them to give their clients convenient access to legal documentation, as well as to their legal expertise and experience.

User comments

DirectLaw put me in contact with four firms who have implemented the system. As well as asking them how they were getting on, I asked them why they had wanted a system of this sort and they talk about the changes in society which they believe are driving the legal market at present. Their answers are also interesting about the extent to which active marketing of any new initiative is required.

Coodes – comments from Suzanne Skerry:

“We have seven offices across Cornwall and Devon and employ over 130 staff, including 63 fee earners. We offer expert legal advice on agriculture, commerce, employment, residential and commercial property, family, wills, trusts and probate, personal injury and criminal law.

We felt that market forces indicated a need to provide an alternative service to traditional office based legal provision. Our aim was to provide greater and more flexible access along with competitive and transparent pricing.

The system, which we call Coodes Direct, went live on the 12th February 2010. We introduced a special logo for it – modern and contemporary. We offer wills and powers of attorney, employment, commercial property, company and commercial and debt recovery.

We conducted an extensive, multi pronged marketing campaign to launch the system. This included a media launch event, training events for staff, local launch events, direct mail shot, email marketing, PR – local press and trade press – we were on the front page of the Law Gazette, radio advertising campaign, radio interviews (BBC Radio Cornwall), production of a video explaining the system and, finally, the production of step by step guides and promotional items to give away. It is still early days to monitor the success of the system. We have had clients for the private client services – Wills and Lasting powers of Attorney.

There was considerable assistance from DirectLaw for the development. As with any implementation of new technology, we have had to review processes to ensure that work is carried out at the correct level and supervision and quality standards are maintained. We have put new procedures in place to enable us to monitor the success of this new service.”

Coles – comments from Peter Gibson:

“We are based in North Yorkshire serving clients throughout England and Wales handling, PI, Wills Probate and property transactions.

We considered that the ability to prepare, obtain and pay for legal documents over the net would be a useful additional benefit and service for clients, something which we would never have had the resources to prepare ourselves. Through our “Online Customer Documentation Area”, hosted by DirectLaw, we are offering Wills, Probate and LPA services.

We started offering the services in November. The set up and implementation was incredibly smooth and fully supported by Epoq throughout. Whilst it has been slow to start we feel positive about the prospect of this increasing with time. As the first law firm to go live with the system we are pleased to be at the forefront of the modernisation of legal services in this country.”

Kester Cunningham John – comments from Stephen Goddard:

“KCJ are a four office firm in Cambridge, Bury St Edmunds, Thetford and Norwich. There are about 80 fee earners and the work is split equally between commercial and private work.

So far, we are offering a variety of private client and family work with the new system. We now have access to markets that we didn’t before, for example, we are looking at the 60 per cent of people who don’t have wills and aren’t attracted to using solicitors. We are now able to offer good value as the client completes much of the work in advance and we can offer a fixed price. We can offer quicker client service as work is completed online and therefore cuts out the need for meetings as well as the need to use Royal Mail. However we can still offer our clients the security of dealing with a legal professional. All of the documents are submitted to us and then reviewed.

We went live towards the end of December and to date we are pleased with what we have done. In many ways the hard work takes place now as we need to promote the service to the public. We have a number of promotions taking place at the moment.

We have tried a number of referral arrangements in the past and we signed up with both Take Legal Advice and Contact Law. DirectLaw is very different as it is a service delivery platform rather than a referral system. Where it will work is by reducing the amount of labour involved in completing for example a will and therefore reducing our cost so that we can become more competitive. The introduction of fixed fees is reassuring for the clients. We are also hoping to tap into those people who telephone around for a quote and don’t come back.”

Farleys – comments from Steve Garbett:

“We have 6 offices across Manchester and East Lancashire. Employing about 180 people including over 80 fee earners, the practice is a general one with departments in Litigation, Family, Crime, Fraud and Business Crime, Corporate and Commercial and Probate. We are currently using DirectLaw for Private client work (wills, EPA etc), some Commercial (partnership agreements, terms and conditions etc) and Employment.

Efficiency, both internally and for our clients, was the driving force for the development. Using the Rapidocs LawDraft portal we can already produce documents internally, for clients who choose to access our services in the conventional manner, easily and quickly. However the Rapidocs system is really leveraged when used as a client portal.

We aren’t currently using the portal as a shop front, offering a pre-paid self service to clients, but as an added incentive for people to use us. With the client completing the information pertaining to their matter prior to visiting us, they save time in our offices and our fee earners save time dictating and drafting.

We won’t know ourselves how the market will take to this until we begin to offer it to our clients as a matter of course. It may be that services such as these are too early and it will take clients a while to adopt them, but I certainly see it as playing a part, if not the part, in the future of legal service delivery.”

Delia Venables is joint editor of this Newsletter.