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“Uber Law”

Posted on June 13th, 2016 -

This is a great article that I was forwarded recently and is well worth publishing on our site. I am a great fan of Jordan Furlong, who I met for coffee in Ottawa last summer. A truly inspiring and innovative lawyer.

What Makes Uber Tick, and What Lawyers Can Learn From It is written by Jordan Furlong and was originally published on Lawyerist.com on June 8th, 2016. It is reproduced on Dialogue, the blog of Remaking Law Firms: Why & How with permission from Sam Glover, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Lawyerist, and author Jordan Furlong.

I keep hearing people say that some innovation or other will become ‘Uber for law’. Personally, I have a hard time seeing it.
Uber allows ordinary people to turn some of their vehicles’ extensive downtime (the average American car is idle 92% of the day) into a revenue stream. Ordinary people, however, don’t have unused lawyering capacity parked in their driveway or sitting in their garage, waiting patiently to be deployed down at the courthouse.(1)
Instead, lawyers should consider Uber a powerful illustration of how and why traditional providers lose control of their markets. Uber doesn’t succeed because its rides are cheaper, or not primarily because of that. It succeeds because it corrects the many flaws in the traditional taxi model.
An Uber passenger sees the name, face, vehicle, and rating of her driver, approves her fare before pickup, watches the driver approach via an interactive map on her phone, and pays automatically by credit card upon her arrival. Taxi passengers call a cab and wait, and they wait some more, not knowing who’ll pick them up, when, and driving what, or how much the ride will cost them. A taxi company that provided Uber’s level of customer control and convenience would have nothing to fear. Very few do.
The lesson for lawyers, especially those in sole practice and small firms, is this: the many new competitors in our market are not beating us on quality. They’re beating us first on service and convenience, and then on price. We’re not being out-lawyered in this market. We’re being out-customered.
When you apply this analytical lens to the legal market, many of the changes we’ve been experiencing start to make sense. The billable hour (which shifts all the risk of unexpected developments onto the buyer) is convenient for lawyers while fixed fees (which provide welcome predictability around the final price for a legal service) are convenient for clients. Guess which one is in ascendance? (Especially among corporate buyers.)
Then there are online legal document providers. Whatever the quality of their offerings (which I think are higher than many lawyers believe), they are affordable, they are priced upfront, they can be customized online, and they can be accessed 24/7. Legal documents sold by lawyers tick few if any of these boxes. The lawyer’s “seal of quality” is great, but it’s also clearly not enough to win the day. Customers in the legal market are willing to risk quality if they can guarantee affordability and ease of access.
“Given the enormous opportunities contained within the multi-billion-dollar legal market, we shouldn’t even consider ceding the field to new providers.”
If you don’t understand why features like convenience and affordability attract millions of consumers and small businesses to these new providers in this economic climate, then you’re not paying attention to your markets. And if you don’t think these competitors’ market share will continue to grow, then you’re simply in denial. They’ve found a winning formula, and they’re going to keep using it—until someone else starts doing it better.
I don’t have any real doubt that certain segments of the traditional legal market will fall away from lawyers. Software, systems, or para-professionals will take practical control over the most straightforward and routine legal tasks, and those tasks will prove to be greater in number than we now suppose.
But equally, a very large segment of the legal market will not only remain open to lawyers, but will actively need us. Whatever paralegals and machines might be able to do someday, human lawyers are still required to do now and in the foreseeable future. Given the enormous opportunities contained within the multi-billion-dollar legal market, we shouldn’t even consider ceding the field to new providers.
“Lawyers, like cab drivers, are useful and capable service providers who nonetheless are sabotaging themselves through their own lousy delivery models.”
The good news for the legal profession, and for the people and businesses we serve, is that we don’t have to cede the field to new providers. Lawyers are still in this game, and if we take the right steps now, we will still be the favorites to win it. We already have the expertise and the ethics to provide high-quality legal services. What we need are much better delivery models, based not on our own convenience and financial interests, but on those of our clients.
“We need solutions that can give both clients and lawyers at least some of what they need.”
We’ve seen the futility of traditional law firm business models whose services are simply out of reach for more than 85% of potential clients. But we can equally anticipate the impact of allowing the legal market to chase lawyers into serving purely the corporate elite, or into a spiral of corner-cutting and eventual collapse. We need solutions that can give both clients and lawyers at least some of what they need.
Those solutions, happily, are already out there. They include a range of entities, some established and some emerging, that connect lawyers and clients in ways that are affordable and convenient for clients and effective and profitable for lawyers. Here are a few:
Legal insurance companies (such as ARAG) charge policyholders (either individual consumers or employees of participating companies) a monthly premium in exchange for full access to a range of fixed-fee legal services from an exclusive panel of lawyers who’ve agreed to receive referrals and inquiries in their areas of practice.
Online legal information sources (such as Avvo, LegalZoom, and Rocket Lawyer) draw in consumers with access to lawyer directories or basic legal documents and offer them referral opportunities to (or even fixed-fee legal services with) their branded networks of affiliated lawyers throughout the United States.
Lawyer content aggregators (such as JD Supra) circulate articles and blog posts created by lawyers to vast audiences of individuals, groups, and media outlets, helping put people who are seeking specific types of legal information directly in touch with the legal professionals who created that information.
A growing array of online platforms, virtual and distributed law firms, and project lawyer agencies (such as Axiom, Curo Legal, and Direct Law) either help law firms implement technology and process improvements to serve clients profitably at lower prices, or help clients access specialized yet affordable expertise on a short-term, flexible basis.
These are the kinds of solutions we’re going to need: ways to conveniently connect people and businesses that have legal problems with accessible lawyers who have legal solutions. Because right now, what we’ve got is a system-wide disconnect. The legal profession is fundamentally misaligned with the buyers of its services and has been for a while. It’s in lawyers’ direct and immediate interest to repair that.
I know many people who support Uber and use it frequently. But I don’t know anyone who thinks taxi services should be provided exclusively by amateurs driving their own cars in their spare time and that the cab industry should be driven into the ground. It’s much the same with lawyers. It would be in nobody’s interests for the legal profession to fade into irrelevance, yielding the legal market to less qualified providers, because it couldn’t figure out a way to deliver its expertise sensibly, affordably, and conveniently.
Lawyers, like cab drivers, are useful and capable service providers who nonetheless are sabotaging themselves through their own lousy delivery models. Let’s take this one lesson from Uber and come up with better ways to be accessible to the people and businesses that need us. It’s not too late to answer the call. But we’re already late in starting.”
There is one exception, an actual “Uber for lawyers”: StandIn, which allows lawyers to find someone to fill in for them at a hearing when they’re delayed or double-booked.
Jordan FurlongJordan describes himself thus: I am a lawyer, speaker, industry analyst, and consultant based in Ottawa, Canada. I’m a principal with the global consulting firm Edge International and a senior consultant with legal web development company Stem Legal Web Enterprises. I specialize in delivering dynamic and thought-provoking presentations to law firms, practice groups, and legal organizations at a time of unprecedented marketplace change.
I agree with Jordan, comparisons with Uber are about the lessons to be learned by BigLaw firms, not a business model to be copied.
Some types of NewLaw business model firms are using a two-sided platform model like Uber and Airbnb. These include LOD, Cognition, and Axiom.
Readers may be interested in another angle on Uber and legal services. In my post What law firms and taxis have in common, I examined the consequences of both these industries being regulated monopolies. And being ill-prepared for deregulation, whether as in the UK by ABS legalisation or by market forces circumvention.


Plymouth law firm wins small business of the year award

Posted on May 6th, 2016 -

Wills, trusts and probate law firm Portcullis Legals has won a small business of the year award in Plymouth, for its outstanding local achievements in community engagement, innovation and meeting its customer’s needs.

Portcullis Legals has been established in Plymouth for 28 years, but despite its traditional area of practice, it has had a far from traditional approach to business development.

I caught up with CEO and founder, Trevor Worth to find out more about why Portcullis Legals has made such a big impact in Plymouth:

“After 28 years of hard slog, ups and downs, daft decisions, great decisions…we were thrilled to be named as The Herald Small Business of the Year 2016.

“To win this in our home city of Plymouth and up against some truly innovative and inspirational firms from all sectors was both humbling and thrilling at the same time.

We were surprised and delighted to be recognised for the work we have been doing over so many years but it is truly fantastic news. I’m a proud Plymothian and winning this award makes my heart sing.

As a firm, we could not have done this without our amazing team of committed and first rate colleagues. Quite simply, the best team of people I could wish to have alongside me. Also a big thank you to all our wonderful clients and our professional partners for all their support over so many years.”

Behind the award has been an attitude of “get up and go” at Portcullis:

“We are not the type of firm that just sits back, rests on our laurels and just carries on as before. We love to disrupt the status quo and do things differently for the benefit of our customers.”

This isn’t just rhetoric for the website – in 2014 Trevor completed a One Planet MBA at Exeter University. His dissertation,”Innovation in Legal Services”, explored how legal services are being developed around the world.

Trevor explained to me how the process of completing his dissertation influenced him to make drastic changes:

“The research clearly stated that whilst consumers welcomed the other opportunities that technological disruption brings, a large swathe also wanted to retain that personal touch and local presence. We decided to open up a law store in an area that suited our researched demographics and give customers opening hours from 7am to 7pm, crystal clear fixed fees and focused upon their needs, rather than the needs and demands of lawyers. Too many law firms talk the talk but are really self-centric, and innovation to many of them means a refreshed website!”

On launching the store in January this year, Trevor said to the local media:

“We’re moving into the retail sector, and we define that as what the client wants.”

The law store offers a “walk-in” environment that is familiar to the customer and offers professional legal services at clear fixed fees:

“The MBA Dissertation looked at the business models in Australia, Canada and the USA and it was clear that consumers wanted greater transparency, different routes to market and the removal of the uncertainty over fees and the “smarm” that many consumers perceive lawyers possess.”

But that’s not all. Trevor is embedding the spirit of innovation at Portcullis Legals by launching two new concepts to the UK market.

 

Firstly, iWill – a  simple app aimed at younger people with less time, which allows the user to complete their wills and powers of attorney online, at a time and a price level that suits their lifestyle. Register as amember on Law Practice Manager and I will keep you updated on its development!

Then towards late summer, Trevor will be involved in the UK roll-out of Canadian Google Partner firm Lawyer Locate. Trevor, who is Vice President of Lawyer Locate UK, explained to me more about what this is about:

” Lawyer Locate have fifteen year’s experience of linking customers to the right lawyer across Canada. A new version with all of the proprietary software and knowledge ported into Lawyer Locate UK is set to take the UK market by storm. Why be part of someone’s new business model in this arena, when you can link with a Google Partner’s expertise and heritage of getting it right?”.

How does he find time for all of this? Trevor said:

“Innovation is at the very heart of our small business and we will continue to find new ways to find new customers, as well as consistently engage our existing customers. This is a very exciting time to be working within the legal services sector for those with the right entrepreneurial mindset” 

Trevor continues to guest lecture and mentor at many of the Universities and Colleges in the south of England and is an Associate of the University of Exeter, with a focus on innovation, new business models and entrepreneurship. And although he did not mention it, Portcullis Legals is very involved with supporting local causes and ventures, including current sponsorship for Plymouth students attempting a new world record.

If anyone is looking at developing innovative new ways of doing things at their law firm, I suggest you start with looking at what Trevor has achieved over just a few short years at Portcullis Legals. My sincere congratulations to you Trevor, and your team!

 

Source: Ben from Law Practice Manager http://www.lawpracticemanager.co.uk/business-management/plymouth-law-firm-wins-small-business-of-the-year-award/


(Rise of the Google Lawyer) Remember a Charity blog by Trevor Worth

Posted on April 26th, 2016 -

The rise of the “Google Lawyer”

26 April 2016

Whilst the talk in and around the subject of disruptive law models continues unabated and rightly so, the title of this post does not refer to IBM Watson, Artificial Intelligence or the entry from all sorts of global brands into the legal services arena.

As most of us are aware, technology is changing and challenging everything we know as consumers, and the law is no different.

My thoughts are more aligned to the rise of apparent expertise via the medium of the internet. Red Adair, the king of all fire fighting matters in the oil industry, famously remarked “If you think hiring a professional is expensive, wait until you hire an amateur”.

This could not be more apt today with everyone googling to get the right guidance.

Multitude of solutions

Whether this is law, medical information or how to fix a leaky tap, all we do is type it in and a multitude of solutions appear from all manner of experts or well meaning amateurs.

How can they all be correct and how do we differentiate between those that are qualified to speak about it or not? More than ever, members of the public need to ensure that the advice they are seeking is provided by qualified and experienced professionals.

“My Google search said…”

In our business, we are often asked a question by a prospective client that they then challenge our response to as “my friend down the road” or “my Google search said otherwise”.

Whilst we embrace technology in our business and everyday lives, it is important not to confuse generic and sometimes downright inaccurate advice, with solid qualifications and experience.

I was overseeing a mentoring session at another business recently and heard the following phrase used, which might sound a little patronising but I most certainly understood where they were coming from… “Please don’t confuse my law degree with your Google search”. The customer involved did take it the right way as it was delivered with a smile.

Secure peace of mind

In an age of ever increasing accessibility of knowledge, it is important that we all remember to seek professional, qualified advice if only to secure peace of mind.

The biggest issue with wills and estate planning generally of course is that if a poor document has been prepared for you, the depth of the problem may not become clear until thirty years or so later. Then it is highly likely that you are not here, the firm that prepared your document may not be here and your executors and beneficiaries have the unenviable task of unravelling matters at a time of personal grief.

The internet is a wonderful tool in so many respects but caveat emptor! Let the buyer beware that qualified and experienced advice is provided by either a STEP qualified adviser or a member of the IPW, or a solicitor that specialises in wills and estate planning.

Trevor Worth MBA TEP, CEO and Founder at Portcullis Legals Ltd


Marrying again? You may need a “silver nup”

Posted on April 25th, 2016 -

The Times, 23rd April 2016

A new breed of prenuptial agreement is helping couples meeting later in life to avoid the agony of an inheritance dispute.

As the number of disputed wills and inheritance claims reaching the High Court soars, many people are turning to “silver nups” to protect their assets before they remarry.

In 2014, 178 probate disputes were heard in the High Court — an increase of 83 per cent from the year before — and experts are warning of the dangers of failing to make an iron-clad will.

Eli Pressman, of Barnet Wills, the specialist wills firm, says: “Remarriage, especially when the partners are over 60, is the one of the most common ways people get disinherited, with stepchildren most at risk of losing out. There is nothing to stop the surviving step- parent from rewriting their will and leaving the children from the first marriage out completely.”

Jane Gray, the head of the private client department at Stowe Family Law, says the problems come when couples make a “mirror” will, resolving to pass on their estates to one another with the intention that money cascades down to children and stepchildren on the surviving partner’s death.
“Sadly, the death of a parent can trigger the dissolution of ties between a child and their surviving step-parent. This might occur if a child feels a sense of resentment at money passing to a step-parent.

“The law permits complete testamentary freedom, so we are all free to do as we please. Just because we made a mirror will does not mean we are bound by it after the spouse has died.”

Emma Pearmaine, the director of family services at Simpson Millar, the law firm, says staff are seeing an influx of parents going into a second or third marriage who want to draw up “silver nups” to ensure their assets go to their children.

Ms Pearmaine says: “Silver nups are not just for the rich and famous. People are starting to catch on to the fact that these agreements are very valuable. The market for silver nups tends to be older people who have significant assets and are concerned that their children receive an inheritance.

“They’ve been married before and they know what can go wrong — once bitten, twice shy. This age group tends to be pragmatic, rather than romantic, about their finances.”

Prenuptial agreements, while not legally binding, are increasingly taken into consideration by courts when deciding how to split assets and how to distribute someone’s legacy. The divorce of Katrin Radmacher, the German heiress, and her husband, Nicolas Granatino, in 2010 triggered a landmark ruling when three Appeal Court judges agreed that prenuptial agreements should be upheld, so long as certain safeguards were met.

The silver nup, which costs between £350 and £1,000 depending on its complexity, is not a substitute for a will but it can add weight in the event of a legal dispute, says Ms Pearmaine.

“It addresses assets and income in the event of separation or divorce but it also ties up what would happen on death in conjunction with a clear will. It’s a complete package.”

Children who have been disinherited by a step-parent can make a legal bid for a share of their estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, particularly if they are being financially maintained by the step-parent. However, the cost and distress that comes with legal action means that prevention is the best cure.

Ms Gray says: “The starting point should be to anticipate and prevent claims by making adequate provision, although for some families this is too much to bear and they will still prefer to take the risk of a claim.”

One way to ensure your money goes to the right people when you die is to prepare “mutual wills” with your partner. These limit the ability of your surviving spouse to change their will after your death. Yet they can be too restrictive and don’t allow for changing circumstances, such as the birth of new children after the will has been made.

“Far better would be to have a sensible discussion around drafting a more flexible will to suit all parties’ needs. This does involve bespoke planning but is often worth it for family harmony,” Ms Gray says.

Flexible interest in possession (IIP) trusts may be a good idea for many remarried couples.

Ms Gray says: “This is a legal arrangement whereby someone holds property or cash for the benefit of more than one person over a period of time.

“The trust might give the surviving spouse a right to the income of the trust fund, with a power to have capital transferred to other intended recipients — such as children — contained in a side letter of wishes.”

Those with enough money in the pot, and the foresight to see potential conflict ahead, can go for a simpler, more brutal, option — the “clean-break” will.

Ms Gray says: “This might make set provision in a will for a surviving spouse and children to benefit in certain percentages. In these cases, the children would not have to wait until the death of a step-parent to inherit.

“The problem is working out how much to give to various recipients. One never quite knows how much will be left at the end of the day and most people want to ensure their spouse has enough to live in comfort. It is not an exact science.”

People who remarry also need to remember that any previous will can be automatically revoked. If no new will is made, their estate would come under intestacy rules that also apply to people who die without a will. This means that a surviving spouse receives a priority legacy of £250,000 together with all personal chattels and one half of the remaining estate. Surviving children would only receive the other half of the remaining estate which — in many cases — will amount to nothing.



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