“Legal services utilising the internet and online technologies are here to stay”, according to a recent article by Peter Frankl in Legal Practice Intelligence. Frankl explains how categories referred to as “Online Legal Services, Online Law Firms and Online Lawyers are still nascent” — and that while “startups in these categories gain much attention for their innovation and successes, they still represent a small fraction of the total market for legal services. The important thing perhaps,” Frankl argues, “is not to get bogged down in terminology.”

Frankl explained how online legal services is an area “of constant experimentation that has to lead to continued growth in market share. In Australia, we have examples such as LegalVision, LawPath, LawAdvisor, LawChoice, LawCorner and LawyerQuote” he detailed. He also noted that Lawvedic.com began in India this year. Further examples of online legal services in the Asia-Pacific region include AsiaLawNetwork.com and SingaporeLegalAdvice.com in Singapore, Bengo4.com in Japan, legistify in India, Jurimetrics, Bulletpints, Crowd & Co and Lawcadia in Australia, Dragon Law in Hong Kong and  BurgieLaw.com in Malaysia.

Which online model works best?

As 60% of the world’s new internet users come from the Asia-Pacific region, the intersection of the internet and legal services appears likely to increase in the future. But as Frankl detailed, there are a variety of online legal services models. So what do the experts and entrepreneurs say about what online model works best? Asia Law Portal interviewed three of the Asia-Pacific region’s legal leaders with unique insight into online legal services in the region. Here’s what they had to say:

Eric Chin, a Sydney-based analyst and strategist to the professional services sector explained that: “The ongoing development of platform-based legal service providers and legal document providers are [the] logical evolution of an industry in the Digital Era as the do-it-yourself (DIY) and gig economies come into the fold. This rise of alternatives, in the form of NewLaw and LegalTech, to the traditional solution (law firms) in the legal industry, have opened up latent markets previously unserved or underserved. The future of Asia’s legal industry will not be dominated by one or two forms of legal service models, rather there will be different types of models geared towards different segments of the market.”

Lachlan McKnight, CEO of Australia’s LegalVision, explained that: “Our model’s really quite different to the online legal marketplaces that are popping up. We have 65 team members, 35 of whom are lawyers, either full-time or part-time. We have a Client Care team of 11 (all of whom have law degrees) who deal with all our online inquiries, and our model is to provide free initial guidance to potential customers, along with our 3,000 free legal articles and 40 free legal documents for those potential customers who are not quite ready to purchase.

If a potential customer does convert the[y] are quickly and cost effectively dealt with by our legal team, who work in a very streamlined and efficient manner, greatly assisted by our in-house tech.

I personally don’t think a marketplace model works well in a legal context. The quality of the service is variable, and the law is something you can’t get wrong. Many marketplaces will say “well we have a ratings system so lawyers who are not good will get bad ratings”. I don’t think that’s good enough. Customers don’t want to take a punt on the quality; they want to know they will get top service every time. The only way to ensure this happens is to supervise the delivery of the legal work. Luckily there’s a structure that allows for this – a law firm! That’s why we’re structured as an incorporated legal practice.

I think in those jurisdictions that allow for a corporation to provide legal resources our model is going to become very popular. The model means we can invest in technology and growth (because we have a balance sheet and can raise external capital – unlike a partnershhip), but we maintain the quality of our service delivery (unlike a marketplace).

I’m not sure about jurisdictions like the US that don’t allow for this model though. I guess traditional, stuck in the past, law firms will hang around. That’s why the US bar association is so determined to stop the corporate law firm structure over there I guess. They think it will give them a few more years of living high on the hog!”

Cherilyn Tan, CEO of Singapore’s AsiaLawNetwork.com observed that:While there is often talk about the potential of AI displacing the need for lawyers, we do not think this is going to happen that soon. There are some parts where this is already happening such as customized templates from DIY sites, but we believe most legal work will require a trained, experienced and skilled (human) legal mind to interpret and apply the law.

AsiaLawNetwork is focused on helping the discovery and accessibility / affordability of legal help to a larger audience of individuals and SMBs in Asia. South East Asia holds tremendous potential but it is a challenging region because it is so diverse in culture, language and even legal systems. Despite the advent of Google and other online platforms, people and businesses in the region still largely rely on more traditional ways to find legal advice through recommendations and referrals which is sub-optimal for both customers and many law firms.

This has to and is changing right now.

Consumers and businesses are increasingly savvy and now better understand the importance and value of the law. An internal study shows that ~40% of people start off their search for legal help on Google. We aren’t very far from a world where their first port of call are marketplaces to help them find the legal help that is the best fit for them. AsiaLawNetwork is working to this vision by offering new and better ways to find legal advice (Quick Consult, where people can connect with qualified lawyers on the phone for a transparent, flat fee) and giving customers more and better information they need to make their decisions (curated lawyer directories, badges, etc).

Lawyers are also increasingly interested in how technology can help them, in particular small and medium law firms. For example, 82% of Singapore’s 890 law firms are comprised of 5 or fewer lawyers and they typically do not have the resources to invest in the solutions large law firms have to become more efficient and develop business. They are cautiously optimistic that technology will create a more level playing field by giving them solutions to more efficiently manage their practices while also growing it.

Governments and regulating bodies in the region is also starting to take a very forward looking approach. For example, the Ministry of Law in Singapore and the Law Society of Singapore have all developed plans to encourage the development and adoption of suitable technology in Singapore.

We all know that progress in Legal Tech is inevitable, and we truly believe that the time for that is right now. I expect the legal landscape in Asia to look very different in just 10 years from what it is today. We’re excited to help drive this change to create ever more value in the legal system in partnership and alongside law firms, our peers in legal tech, regulators and yes, even our competitors.”

Going forward

While the legal services sector faces unique challenges to the adoption of online technologies – in the long run — it appears more lawyers and legal services sector companies will successfully adopt the internet as their prime means of interface with clients and the public — as AsiaLawNetwork and LegalVision are already a testament to.

Posted by John Grimley

John Grimley edits and publishes Asia Law Portal and is the author of A Comprehensive Guide to the Asia-Pacific Legal Markets. He specializes in providing writing, editing, research and strategy services to the corporate and professional services sectors. Between 2002 and 2008, he established and directed the European representative business development office of US AmLaw 100 law and public policy firm Patton Boggs LLP. At the inception of his career, he served as a writer to the President of the United States in the White House. A licensed American lawyer, he holds a Juris Doctor from the University of San Diego School of Law.

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