How many times have you used a lawyer? Do you feel that obtaining legal assistance is easy or accessible to you? Many people have not engaged a lawyer, and feel that legal services are out of reach. Could online law be the solution?

The legal crisis

Lack of access to the law is a challenge for the legal profession. Some firms are adapting to this shifting legal landscape more quickly and willingly than others. At a recent LIV Conference of Council, council President, Katie Miller, ominously described the situation facing lawyers as “a profession under threat”.

It is increasingly commonplace for individuals and SMEs to seek legal assistance from non-legal resources, including friends, family, financial advisers and the Government. This trend stems from clients’ fear of exorbitant legal fees and uncertainty about the quality and benefits of services. These concerns have an impact on the relevance of the legal profession.

This growing dissatisfaction with the costs and delivery of legal services in Australia is confirmed in a statement released in the Productivity Commission’s recent report on Access to Justice, which concluded that “legal services are well and truly beyond reach for middle Australia”. As fewer businesses look to firms still operating on a system of hourly billing, the work environment in traditional bricks and mortar firms has become increasingly dire, with metal health issues of depression, anxiety and workplace harassment affecting more than half of the legal profession.

Could online delivery really make all the difference?

But are legal services truly “beyond reach” for middle Australia? Could delivery make all the difference? If so – why and how?

There are many talented lawyers in Australia who seek flexibility and less hours, rather than 60+ hour weeks and high stress for high pay. There are many businesses in Australia who would obtain legal services, if they better understood – why do I need legal services? What difference will it make? What will it cost?

Online law and technology are a vital part of the solution. Online law connects high-quality flexible lawyers with businesses in need. Quickly, simply and cheaply.

Technology plays a crucial role in increasing access to legal services. A number of online law firms are using technology to increase the efficiency with which advice can be given and documentation can be drafted and reviewed.

Offering legal services online requires the law firm to give the potential client an opportunity to find out about the lawyer online. This includes looking at the law firm website, looking at articles that the lawyer has written and perhaps watching videos by that lawyer.

Delivering legal services online means that both the lawyer and the client can save travel time and the client is not paying for a lawyer’s fancy office.

Fixed fee billing ends bill shock 

Another crucial development is a commitment to fixed fees. This is a considerable challenge to a legal profession who knows the knowledge, expertise and judgment behind each piece of advice. However – if we’re serious about making the law more accessible, then we need to be serious about committing to fixed fees.

By adopting a fixed-fee approach to providing online legal advice, these firms have catered to the growing need in the legal industry for flexible working hours. The response from the small business community is clear – if you help me understand what I need, why I need it, and what it will cost – and you deliver – then we will support your law firm.

This response has led to the rise of a new style of legal practice that no longer requires face-to-face consultations charged on an hourly basis.

Online law works and it’s booming

We’ve built LegalVision – an online law firm that caters to small and medium businesses – to make legal services more accessible and affordable to new business owners. Our clients are less concerned with meeting their lawyer in person and instead prefer electronic means of client-lawyer communication, such as email, Skype and live chat. This is particularly true for SMEs and startups experiencing funding and time constraints.

In my experience, businesses are happy to pay for legal services when they know the cost in advance, and when they know that they will receive expert assistance, from a lawyer who understands their industry and business, and can explain the issues and solutions well.

It’s scary to think that, until recently, many owners and founders were running the risk of operating their new businesses without adequate legal protection, as legal advice was simply too expensive. Our priority in integrating technology into our model has been to break this trend and give new businesses better and easier access to the law.

Automated documents

Described by Miller as a “tsunami of change”, the shifting legal landscape has led to the emergence of new non-legal entrants, especially in the area of legal document generation.

Rather than paying top dollar for a lawyer to draft a legal document, some businesses are using legal templates as substitutes. However, the quality of automated documents varies widely depending on who drafted them and how well the logic works. Many automated documents provide insufficient legal protection for the businesses using them.

We have launched LV Dox – a free service – our own document-generating service to provide our clients with high-quality straightforward legal documents to meet the growing needs of new and small Australian businesses. We’re committed to supporting Australian businesses, and know that a good quality automated legal document is considerably better than no legal protection.

LV-Dox is further disrupting the legal services industry. For us, it is another step in the right direction in making legal services more accessible to middle Australia, regardless of their budget.

While this can provide a good simple document, technology cannot currently replace the analytic and decision-making skills and bespoke drafting of an expert lawyer. This is why we offer heavily discounted reviews of our automated documents, so that we can adjust them further for your circumstances, and given you the full seal of approval from a qualified lawyer.

Conclusion

Disruptive innovation continues to shake up the legal industry. For law firms still in denial about the shifting legal landscape, the forecast is bleak. Technology has changed the rules of the game and only firms that respond and adapt to the commercial needs of Australian businesses and individuals will enjoy growth now and into the future.

How can LegalVision help you? You can use LV Dox our free own document-generating service, choose a bespoke upgrade and lawyer sign-off, or have our lawyers create your legal documents in consultation with you.

Whichever option you choose, you can research our lawyers extensively online to get comfortable, and have the benefits of a free or fixed-fee service.

Let our experienced small business lawyers help you. Call LegalVision today on 1300 544 755.

Ursula Hogben

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