New online legal marketplace is the “Facebook for lawyers”

Regular readers of LawNews, and in particular of our annual “Tech & Law” special edition, will know that we are always interested in the ever-changing intersection of new technologies and the practice of law.

In that vein, earlier this month, a new online marketplace – “MyAdvice.Legal” – launched in New Zealand. Developed and hosted by prominent lawyer and proponent of legal innovation, Mai Chen of boutique firm Chen Palmer,

MyAdvice.Legal is “not a law firm” and provides no legal advice. Rather, it is a portal enabling registered clients to input legal problems, and get matched up with registered lawyers with relevant expertise in that practice area. Interested lawyers then bid for the instruction, and agree a price before beginning work.

MyAdvice.Legal soft-launched to clients in early October, officially going live on 16 October 2017. From the initial feedback from clients who have tested the site, Ms Chen says that clients “get it”. “Clients are the ones driving it,” she notes. “And where you get clients, you’ll get lawyers.”

“Clients want quality legal advice and service delivery, communication and responsiveness, a commercial approach, and value for money – but I think that there is often a gap between their expectations and reality.” Analysis shows that there is a gap of roughly 10% between clients most valued qualities (legal advice, service delivery, communication and responsiveness, commercial approach, and value for money) and their satisfaction levels with those qualities (Best Legal Advisors Report 2016-17). Ms Chen notes that Anna Guenther from crowdfunding platform “PledgeMe” told her that launching MyAdvice.Legal would “only be worth it if you vastly improve the customer experience of getting legal advice”.

Ms Chen says that the benefits of MyAdvice.Legal are many. From the clients’ perspective, they can register on the site for free, and the fact that lawyers will be bidding to take on the instruction gives confidence that they are getting advice at the best price. They get access to their own encrypted portal (for secure document and advice storage) and a videoconferencing facility, meaning that even rural or remote clients can converse with their lawyer when, where and how they wish.

Lawyers who register with the site have to sign up to ten “customer promises”, including agreeing a budget with the client (which they will not exceed without express permission), and providing weekly briefing reports on progress. While most of the promises dovetail with the Rules of Professional Conduct (“Any lawyer worth their salt would be doing all of that anyway”), Ms Chen says that it is good to have lawyers on the site sign up to them for clients to see. Lawyers also agree to provide the first hour of legal consultation for free, respond to any client calls within 24 hours, write and communicate in plain English and provide pro bono advice to at least one client a year.

“Clients want to deal with lawyers when it suits them, from the comfort of home if they so choose. Often, and especially with high level clients, this can be after hours. So lawyers find themselves having to work to clients’ rhythms – this site enables them to do that better,” Ms Chen comments. She says that the site is intended to assist all types of client from NFPs and major corporates, through to mums and dads. “Sometimes, clients need top-drawer, specialist legal advice, and there may be only one person in the country who can deliver that. But other times, the work they need done may be quite pro forma, and the site can cater to this as well.”

The advantage for lawyers lies in greater exposure to a wide range of clients, the ability to pick up more work in their area of specialty, and to choose which instructions to bid on as best suits their workload, and need for flexible working. Lawyers will be able to promote their own specialised experience via their online profiles, and by contributing blogs and articles. “It’s like a legal Facebook page,” she says. “My own profile is about to go live on the site as are those of the senior lawyers (special counsel, principals and partners at Chen Palmer Partners), so I’m also disrupting myself and my firm.”

Ms Chen says that the uptake from lawyers has been steady so far. At the time of publication, some 100 lawyers were registered on the site and were already uploading profiles, videos and articles, with more still coming through. Once they begin doing work for clients via the site, clients will be able to rate lawyers and post reviews. “It does force lawyers to sharpen their pencils, but the aim is to allow them to distinguish themselves for doing great work.”

“The reality is that this concept is not that novel,” she continues. “Nowadays, you can buy anything online, and lawyers are selling a service just like anyone else, albeit one requiring high trust and competency.” She thinks that the increasing use of technology in the provision of legal services is “inevitable”, but that lawyers will work alongside technology, rather than being subsumed by it.

“It will be a blended approach – lawyers will be working with technology and AI, to provide better quality results. It’s emerged from what clients are going to expect from us – connectivity, and the ability to get advice whenever they need it – and lawyers have to be responsive to that. If a case search using research technology can now take five minutes, rather than a matter of days, and if discovery can be automated rather than done manually, then why would they want you to waste all that time and the client’s resources?

“Clients will push back if lawyers are not willing to embrace change. We need to think about disaggregating the parts of our work that can be done by AI, and focusing on those where we can add value that computers cannot.”

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