Juriosity: building a legal marketplace

Juriosity.com was launched in partnership with the Bar Council of England and Wales in 2018. In its current form, the platform provides a directory of practising barristers and other legal professionals and a self-publishing platform enabling barristers (and other approved contributors) to publish short articles on legal developments, cases they have been involved in (or wish to comment on) and any other topics they believe will be of interest to their clients and potential clients.

Phase two of the development of Juriosity will add direct access functionality and a marketplace for the purchase and sale of precedents, contracts, guides and other collateral.

Starting with the Bar

In launching Juriosity, we realised that we face a bit of a “chicken and egg” issue. In order for any online marketplace to work, it has to have both sides of the transaction represented. Thus, in Juriosity’s case, it requires both lawyers and clients in order to make it a success.

We decided that the best way to approach this was to try and get as many barristers onto the platform as possible and were really happy to agree a partnership with the Bar Council. As a result, on renewing their annual practice certificates, barristers are given the opportunity to join the Juriosity platform and the vast majority do. Over 6,000 barristers and most Chambers have gone on to augment their profiles with further information about them and/or their practice.

That has given us the confidence to proceed with phase two of Juriosity’s development. Accordingly, as well as seeking to expend the offering to solicitors, we are trialling a triaged direct instruction service with three leading barristers chambers through our sister company, Sparqa Legal, with a view to launching our fully automated direct access functionality as well as a document purchase marketplace during 2020.

There are broadly two types of user on Juriosity. Those that add content and those that consume the content. The former includes barristers and solicitors who are entitled to add content provided they hold a valid practicing certificate. Others who might want to add content (eg academics and others) can be given contributor status by individual application.

Content can be consumed by anyone interested in it by mere registration on the platform.

The technology context

Technology has significantly changed the way in which lawyers carry out their practices. Legal research has ceased to be a chargeable item for law firms and a number of them have launched on-demand, fee-earner arms and/or moved teams to non-traditional locations with a view to reducing their fixed costs and taking advantage of IT developments. The development of AI or big data tools is fundamentally changing the way in which law firms approach document heavy tasks such as disclosure, due diligence and drafting. Algorithms provide reliable alternatives to human resource at a fraction of the cost. Firms are having to rethink their cost structures and to embrace technology (some engaging software specialists at a senior level or investing in start-ups).

The Bar has moved a bit slower. This is unsurprising with the management structure of a chambers (often one member one vote) not naturally suited to rapid change. Thus, although barristers can now accept instructions on a direct access structure or set themselves up as partnerships, the Bar is only just starting out in looking at how those developments could provide significant market opportunity.

One thing that has not materially changed is how clients find and instruct lawyers. It is true that an online directory might be used instead of the Yellow Pages but the nature of the interactions between client and lawyer has not really evolved. Law firms and barristers still tend to find their work in the same ways they did 20 years ago.

When looked at in the context of the broader economy, this is surprising. Consumers are comfortable sourcing goods and services online. Online marketplaces have made it possible to source products and services from a much broader set of sellers than ever before giving the consumer the power to buy what they want at the best price. If a consumer wants to work out which drill is most suitable for their needs, there are many sites that will help. If people are willing to buy goods online, why would they not also source legal advice in the same way?

An online marketplace for law

An online marketplace for accessing law and lawyers is a natural (and we think inevitable) development. It offers too many advantages not to emerge, both for consumer and lawyer.

For the consumer, it should increase access to justice. Technology ought to make it possible for anyone requiring legal assistance to find the right lawyer and/or the right legal information at the right time and at the right cost. At the moment, while a large corporate client has no difficulty in accessing the law and has the firepower to negotiate fees, the same cannot be said for a small business or a consumer who will struggle to ascertain who is the right person for the work required and will have little information about fee rates or any real ability to negotiate them.

The risks for a consumer are not as great as they might be when buying other goods and services online. Many of the issues arising when buying online are reduced or eliminated when accessing legal advice given that it is a regulated industry with professional bodies to complain to when the service provided is inadequate.

A legal access platform will assist lawyers in marketing their businesses. Just as consumers find it difficult to identify the right lawyer to use, lawyers find it difficult to market effectively to consumers. Too much is left to chance and lawyers are faced with scatter-gun marketing or restricting their business to existing clients, recommendations or clients located geographically close to them.

The opportunity for lawyers to adopt flexible working practices will be enhanced by a direct access platform. In due course there is no reason why freelance lawyers should not become a reality, able to pick and choose when they work so as to fit in with their other commitments whether family or other.

Adding marketplace functionality to the platform enabling consumers and businesses to access contracts, legal guidance, check-lists and other collateral will also enhance access to the law and reduce the amount of duplication that can arise in the current market. There is no reason why multiple clients should pay significant amounts for simple legal documents that are deployed over and again. Simple legal documents should be accessible from an online marketplace with the intervention of a lawyer only necessary in less simple situations or where a client wants the reassurance of speaking to a human.

Such a marketplace should also provide additional revenue opportunities for lawyers. No longer will lawyers only monetise their knowledge when they receive specific instructions from a client in specific circumstances. Lawyers will be able to create products (think standard form contracts, pleadings, how-to-guides) and receive a payment each time a client downloads them.

Finally, the development of open banking is going to change the relationship between a bank and its customers with banks wanting to offer a range of additional non-banking services to their core offerings with a view to increasing customer loyalty. An obvious route for banks to take is to offer legal services or introductions to legal services via their digital client platforms. Thus, in the future, a customer of a bank may simply select a lawyer through their banking app. That creates incredible opportunity for disruptive entrants to the legal market.

Andrew Thornton is a member of Erskine Chambers and a director of FromCounsel.com, Sparqa.com and Juriosity.com. Email athornton@erskinechambers.com. Twitter @juriosity.