ICLR 2017 – Panel: “Disruption in the Legal Profession: Automated/Semi-Automated Online Delivery of Legal Services”

A synopsis of panel session 6, which takes place on 6 October at ICLR Singapore, kindly provided by the session’s moderator, Robert Hawley. Conference materials will be made available to ICLR.net members after the conference.

Moderator: Robert A. Hawley – Former Deputy and Acting Executive Director, State Bar of California, USA

Crispin Passmore – Executive Director  Policy, Solicitors Regulation Authority
Heidi Chu – Secretary-General, Law Society of Hong Kong
Lim Seng Siew – Director, OTP Law Corporation

This session will discuss how online providers of legal services are proliferating and offering services across borders. Often beyond the reach of domestic regulators and un-regulated, they present both a threat and an opportunity for the legal profession.

Why is this session of particular interest and to whom?

Everyone is affected by this issue.  The focus of this panel presentation is NOT as much on what is happening in the profession regarding the use (and abuse) of technology but how and whether regulators can and should regulate it, or not, and what “it” really is.  Further, what is effective regulation across borders in electronic for?  Is there a way to “experiment” with regulation before adopting it? We welcome all input as to what regulators are seeing, what they are doing, and what they would like to do and see.

Consider: What is and should be the view of the regulator in the jurisdiction where this type of on-line service is available?  Is it regulated activity?  Who is providing it?  What is the role of non-lawyers in the process?  What should their role be?  How does an on-line service get credentialed in a jurisdiction?  Should it need to be credentialed?   Does it matter that there are no lawyers visible in the on-line service?

What particularly do you hope to explore in this session?  Any specific questions you hope to answer?

Programs on technology in the legal profession abound.  This one intends to focus on technology that offers on-line legal guidance (via Artificial intelligence) that could be considered the practice of law if provided by an attorney licensed in the jurisdiction.  Legal Zoom, Rocket Lawyer, Quicken, Law Geex, Legal Shield, Just Answer (in the U.S.) and others are getting quite established in this area.  Take a look at the following:

Rocket Lawyer U.S.
Rocket Lawyer U.K.
Rocket Lawyer France
Rocket Lawyer Spain
Asia Law  Network
Dragon Law

What do you hope to achieve with this session?

We have on the panel regulators, law society/bar association representatives and practitioners in the field.  We hope to explore what is happening and find “core values” that can be agreed upon as to what warrants regulation.

Any useful documents/background reading for context?

Check out what is on line in your jurisdiction. Look at Rocket Lawyer and others: Law Geex, Legal Shield, Just Answer, Law Canvas, Asia law Network in addition to Legal Zoom and Rocket Lawyer.  Consider the U.K. Solicitors Regulation Authority website SRA Innovate and the Legal Technology Vision by the Singapore Academy of Law.

Also, consider this hypothetical and questions:

A member of the public (MOP) needs legal guidance on how to form a business. (It could be regarding trusts & estates work, drunk driving defence, speeding ticket defence, divorce or family matters, any number of things.) MOP goes on-line and finds an on-line service that provides a check list for starting a business, lots of “how to” information, the required legal documents for the jurisdiction, on-line links to resources for other information. The on-line service is based in another jurisdiction. The only contact with your jurisdiction is electronic entry through the internet. Upon reading the material, MOP decides that s/he needs further explanation and guidance on what to do and how to complete the various forms. MOP returns to the on-line service and sees that it offers further guidance for increased fees. In drop down menus there are FAQ’s and answers to questions commonly asked. Information is sought that populates the various necessary forms that are printable for MOP to use. For a further fee, MOP can “chat” online with a paralegal or other para-professional (not a lawyer) who can help MOP understand how to complete the forms and what s/he needs to do further to form his/her business. For a further fee, MOP can “chat” with a lawyer through the on-line service. You cannot tell from the on-line service if the paraprofessional and lawyer are in your jurisdiction or not. MOP can also seek a referral to an attorney connected to the service, for further fees.

  • Is providing documents and information a regulated activity? Should it be?
    Is providing assistance completing the forms and answering individualized questions regulated activity? Should it be?
    Are standardized FAQ responses helping complete the firms and “populating” the forms with the information regulated activity? Should it be?
    Is the quality and correctness of the guidance given a regulated activity? Should it be?
    Is the “chat” option with a paralegal or other para-professional regulated activity? Should it be?
    Does it matter where the paralegal is geographically?
    What if the para-professional is acting properly in the jurisdiction where s/he is but is not acting properly in your jurisdiction?
    Is the quality and correctness of the guidance given by the para-professional a regulated activity? Should it be?
    Is the “chat” option with a lawyer regulated activity? Should it be?
    Does it matter where the lawyers are geographically?
    What if the lawyer is acting properly in the jurisdiction where s/he is but is not acting properly in your jurisdiction?
    Is the quality and correctness of the guidance given a regulated activity? Should it be?
    Is a referral to a lawyer for further specialized customized assistance a regulated activity? Should it be?
    Does it matter that the on-line service takes a “cut” of any attorney fees generated by the referral and refers only to its “stable” of lawyers who register with the service and agree to give the service a portion of the fees for referrals.

Anything you would like to ask the regulator community in advance of the session to inform the content/preparation?

Any comments or information about what you are seeing in your jurisdiction in this regard, and anything you would like to see or hear on this subject is welcome.  If you know of existing on-line service providers not noted here, please identify them to us.  If you have a program to address the rendition of legal services by technology, please identify them to us.  Please think about the hypothetical and answer the questions posed at ICLR.net.  (We have set up an area for you to comment/answer these questions in the ‘Singapore 2017 group’.)


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