Academic journal article Harvard Journal of Law & Technology

Leveraging Technology to Deliver Legal Services

Academic journal article Harvard Journal of Law & Technology

Leveraging Technology to Deliver Legal Services

Article excerpt

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. INTRODUCTION
II. ONLINE LEGAL SERVICE TECHNOLOGIES: A CONTEMPORARY SURVEY
    A. Origins
    B. Current Landscape
       1. Basic Business Models
       2. Making Services Affordable
    C. Addressing the Obstacles
       1. Privacy and Information Security
       2. Accessing underserved Markets
       3. Unauthorized Practice of Law
III. LOOKING FORWARD
    A. Online Pure-Play vs. Hybrid Brick-and-Mortar
    B. Vendor vs. Multi-Sided Platform
       1. Economics of MSPs
       2. Revitalizing the online Legal Service Business Model
    C. Open vs. Closed Platforms
IV. EMBRACING CHANGE
    A. Consumers: Serving a Latent Market
    B. Legal Professionals: Opportunities to Participate
V. CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

Online technologies offer innovative ways to deliver legal services. By automating tasks traditionally performed by attorneys and by making legal products available on the Internet, these technologies make legal services more affordable and accessible. (1) For example, many vendors now offer downloadable bill-of-sale documents. (2) For reasons that will be discussed below, legal service technologies are likely to evolve into fully integrated, multi-sided platforms that automate simple tasks and interface with attorneys for more complex ones. Although these technologies threaten to disrupt traditional models for delivering legal services, (3) they should be embraced by consumers and legal professionals alike.

Part II of this Note discusses the evolution of online legal services. It explores the current landscape through case studies of three companies, investigating how they have employed different business models to benefit the underserved market of low- and moderate--income households. It then discusses several obstacles such companies face. Informed by this analysis, Part III projects the next phase of legal service technologies: multi-sided, quasi-open platforms. Part IV discusses the groups that are most affected by the rise of online legal services--consumers of legal services and legal professionals--and explains why both should embrace these technologies. Part V concludes.

II. ONLINE LEGAL SERVICE TECHNOLOGIES: A CONTEMPORARY SURVEY

A. Origins

Online legal service technologies began to appear in the mid-1990s, shortly after the advent of the World Wide Web. originally, they were simplistic databases of legal information that provided viewers with text-based explanations of their legal rights. (4) While such sites offered useful information, users still needed to draft legal forms on their own or with the help of an attorney. Thus, low- and moderate income households saw little benefit from these technologies in terms of the affordability of legal assistance.

The next phase in the evolution of online legal services took place near the turn of the new millennium. In 1999, U.S. Legal Forms began offering pre-prepared documents through its website. (5) Standardized legal documents became readily accessible to the public at relatively low costs. Uptake was considerable--for example, MyLawyer.com, Inc. experienced 100% revenue growth in 2003. (6) Myriad players entered the field. (7) This competition had two beneficial implications for consumers of legal services. First, prices of legal forms dropped. (8) Second, a broader range of forms became available. (9) As a result, it became possible for low- and moderate-income households to avoid costly attorney consultations for everything from bills of sale to landlord-tenant agreements to living wills. (10)

Online legal services have become increasingly sophisticated. Rather than offering standardized forms, many sites have begun to provide automated document assembly. (11) Users can now enter relevant information and generate documents better tailored to their specific needs; (12) for example, different customers might require different clauses in a will. …

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