Lawyer Monthly Magazine - March 2020 Edition

Earlier this month the demise of UpCounsel was announced despite the fact the online lawyer marketplace had raised $26 million from keen investors. The company was accused of flouting ethics rules and competition laws following a 2018 lawsuit, and even though the case settled in 2019, UpCounsel were also accused of ‘brazenly’ violating a Californian bar rule that prohibits lawyers from sharing legal fees with non-lawyers . UpCounsel sold themselves as being an “Uber” of legal services, linking freelance lawyers with small businesses or other would-be clients. The ‘online lawyer’ would assist businesses with their legal needs; from a one off consultation to being available as a freelance legal department, UpCounsel maintained a network of over 5,000 lawyers specialising in an array of legal sectors, from immigration to IP. Since the news broke of their shutdown, the Upcounsel’s co-founders managed to find a way to keep their doors open by reaching an agreement where the company will be under new ownership. This was good news for many as stakeholders, freelance lawyers and businesses using their services were concerned about what impact their closure would have. With the reliance on technology and its advantages growing, we cannot dismiss the impact it is having on our social construct and our demands. Remember when you had to fight to use the landline to phone your friend when someone else was on the internet, or locate your nearest hardware store which may be miles away, instead of simply clicking on Amazon Prime? We are now in an era where everything is fast-paced; we demand things almost immediately, with no delays with little inconvenience and no extortionate added costs. From consumers being able to click next day delivery and being able to set up your weekly medical subscriptions online, the worldwide web has thrust itself into every profession, mostly, for the better. But how has the legal sector adapted to this? With the legal profession being slow to move with the times, famously clinging onto tradition, will online legal services, like UpCounsel, that sell itself on ease, on-demand advice and responses, with smaller bills to pay at the end of it, overtake and replace lawyers? Perhaps the question is a little dramatic, especially when considering AI. Lawyers will always be needed. In fact, the US Bureau of Labour Statistics state that the employment of lawyers is projected to grow 6 per cent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations 2 . But when it comes to legal advice, from a human, rather than a bot, we can see why an SME would rely on a freelance, online lawyer – especially if there is little difference between the level of professionalism and outcome of their service. In 2019, 8/10 of top UK firms identified technology as the key challenge to growth in the next 2-3 years 3 . Research has also found that consumer confidence around engaging with the legal services market, and the decisions needed to do so, is low 4 . There are, however, consumers relying on online services, but again with some apprehension. This is likely due to being presented with an array of answers for one simple question. With the law being precise, we need to make sure our online searches correctly guide us, as it is often difficult to navigate yourself to decide what is best. Therefore, there is somewhat a higher demand for online legal services as consumers do see potential in a more valuable, official and independent ‘legal advice and guidance site’, which they could recognise as the ‘go to’ site for legal advice. Thus, the introduction of online lawyers and sites like UpCounsel. But what about the companies challenging a bigger, often overlooked part of the legal sphere: the tense conflict between parties and unwanted legal fees. Take online divorce services company 'amicable', for example. Kate Daly, alongside her good friend Pip Wilson, wanted to offer a tech-enabled, lawyer free alternative to divorce, separation and co-parenting. Uniquely, amicable focuses on the emotional journey as well as the law, and is different from traditional services because they work with the couple, when lawyers only work with one side. They also write up all the legal paperwork (where mediators do not). Kate’s messy divorce motivated her to start amicable, leading us to question the current divorce process. “My divorce was about as messy, unpleasant and expensive as it could get. We outsourced our communications to two different lawyers. The battle lines were drawn and both of us were set for the long and bloody fight ahead. I paid almost £80,000 in fees”, shares Kate. In 2019, 8 / 10 of top UK firms identified technology as the key challenge to growth in the next 2-3 years 1 . 32 WWW.LAWYER-MONTHLY.COM | MAR 2020

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