Apps for law – the appstore gap

Law for the psychic problems

We’re currently going through a phase in history where we’re looking for the app for everything. How many times do we hear “oh there’s an app for that”, then proceed excitedly to download yet another new icon to our home screens?

There seems to be nowhere that apps don’t go these days, either. We’ve seen apps for jeans, apps for razors, apps to tell you how to sleep, apps to tell you how to eat… Whilst some of these are of questionable value, there is no arguing with the success of apps that help us with what we call the ‘psychic problems’.

These are the problems that psychics will always tell punters about, because they are the ones that we’re all worrying about: money, relationships, work, family and health. Banking apps, dating apps, health apps – all have wild success stories. Then there are the apps like Uber, whose services (personal transport) span these problems, and who are equally or even more successful.

The point being that in these categories, there are guaranteed to be success stories; apps that we all know of, even if we don’t use them personally.

Except for one gaping maw: legal services.

Where are all the iLawyers?

Legal services, like Uber, span the psychic problems. In work we need lawyers, with money we need advice, with our health we need to make provisions for the unthinkable – even family and relationships have their fair share of legal angles. Did somebody say…divorce?

Yet for the vast majority of us, particularly in our personal capacities, the way we interact with lawyers is essentially the same as it’s always been. Sure, some of the documents now get emailed to us, and if the firm is really ‘high tech’ you might even sign something digitally. But the essential dynamic of finding a local solicitors firm (albeit over Google rather than the yellow pages), wandering down to the office and having a face to face remains unchanged.

There are as many technologies that could change this process as there are law firms. So why haven’t they?

Do we trust apps?

There is a sense in which legal problems, in the UK at least, are still very clandestine. The idea that data about what agreements we’ve signed, or who’s suing us, is travelling around on the net is perhaps still a bit disconcerting for us.

When you think about it this is surprising, because we’re now completely used to banking online, sending money online, even using our phones to pay for things. So perhaps this is a symptom of the lack of law apps, rather than a cause.

Do lawyers care about apps?

Despite the reforms introduced by the Legal Services Act the legal industry is an old industry, and compared with many of the other professions still faces little pressure to change. There is a sense in which a family has a lawyer – like they have a GP – determined by locality and perhaps word of mouth recommendations. Likewise, companies have a firm they traditionally work with, or maybe a panel.

Competition is limited primarily to cost and reputation, because behind the ring-fence of reserved activities there is little incentive for newcomers to change the way services are delivered. When the annual accounts come around, billable hours are all the count.

However, it’s unlikely there’s anything inherent in the legal profession that makes it resistant to change. It is after all no different to any other professional sector. Insurance, for example (which likewise spans our psychic problems), is much less of a closed shop and has given us many apps, with Vitality (a health insurance provider) even releasing an app for remote GP appointments.

So whilst the legal industry isn’t moving forward much, it’s not that it couldn’t, just that it doesn’t need to.

Does the law cater for apps?

When looking for a reason why legal services remain so ‘old-fashioned’ perhaps the best place to look is at the law itself.

Alongside the protection it offers to the legal industry, many of the laws which govern our legal relationships were drafted in another age, for different technologies.

Documents frequently still require wet signatures on physical copies, and subsequent storage of those copies for many years. The privileges that are afforded to communications between lawyers and clients, and the requirements as to how they are conducted, are not designed with WhatsApp or SMS in mind. And the courts still want bundles tied with pink ribbons.

How we’re going to change this

It’s always going to be difficult to develop a technical solution to a problem that exists independent of technology. And yet the accessibility, affordability and efficiency of technological solutions mean that this is exactly what we need to do to accomplish our mission to Simplify the Law.

We’ve started with our online library of guidance, so that you can inform yourself on legal issues. Then added our automated documents, so you can solve the majority of your legal issues yourself. We can now also refer you to our nationwide panel of lawfirms, and monitor the service they deliver to you, to ensure that when legal issues do need a lawyer – you get the best service possible.

And as the law catches up with the world we will be there, at the cusp, making sure that businesses and individuals can always get legal help as quickly, affordably and independently as possible.

In other words, keep watching this space.

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