It is good to see a positive report on the benefits of online services such as those offered by ContractStore. The report entitled “2020 Legal Services – How Regulators Should Prepare for the Future” has reviewed the various offerings online that enable consumers (and businesses) to benefit from the new technology and to obtain a cost-effective solution to some of their problems. The Legal Services Consumer Panel that issued the report advises the Legal Services Board, the ‘super-regulator’ of legal services in England.
According to the report, their survey data shows strong consumer demand for online services: 47% of consumers polled said online delivery is important to them.
As technology makes legal services simpler to use, involve less effort and cheaper to buy, more people are likely to carry out the sorts of tasks – like writing a will or arranging a power of attorney – which currently they either prefer to put off or cannot afford to do. The various online services offer many benefits. Among other things, “they may be less intimidating, cheaper, quicker and more convenient.’”
‘Self-lawyering’ (sic) is expected to increase as consumers seek alternatives to lawyers through technology enabled DIY solutions. This will enable some consumers to complete common legal tasks without the need to engage a lawyer, or with minimal supervision by a lawyer.
As the report says, historically, lawyers have been a conservative profession which has successfully resisted change. It is therefore encouraging to see the Legal Services panel acknowledging the beneficial impact for users of the new marketplace when the report says that “in overall terms, there would seem good grounds for being optimistic about the future. Market liberalisation, technology and other forces should produce innovative and cheaper services that can benefit all consumers and widen access to groups currently excluded from the market.”
Concerns About Regulation
However they do have concerns at the unregulated nature of the online legal market. So they want to encourage and facilitate initiatives to raise standards and extend access to redress in unregulated markets while “continuing to press for modernisation of the wider regulatory framework in the longer term.”
There is something of anomaly in the regulatory framework at present: on the one hand, to practise as a solicitor you first have to train, qualify, be registered with the Solicitors Regulatory Authority and comply with the SRA Code of Conduct and Accounts rules. But the ‘regulated activities’ which only solicitors can perform are very few – essentially court litigation, handling probate and some property transactions. As a result, the internet has enabled the proliferation of a wide range of legal or quasi-legal services which are not subject to any professional control and can be provided by people without any training in the law.
Quality Legal Documents
At ContractStore, we have taken steps to ensure that our services meet high professional standards. All our documents are prepared by qualified, experienced lawyers and we are a founder member of APOD, the Association of Publishers of Online Legal Documents which itself has a Code of Practice that members have to sign up to.
The full report can be found here – http://www.legalservicesconsumerpanel.org.uk/publications/research_and_reports/documents/2020consumerchallenge.pdf