I recent had the opportunity to talk with Tao Lin from Stuff about the changes that are happening in the legal profession, and how they can benefit small businesses here in New Zealand. She has published a story "LawHawk spreads wings with online legal templates" which you can view in full here.
It's great to see the continued interest in LawHawk as we continue to spread the word about automated online legal documents in general, and what we are doing at LawHawk in particular. It's also good to see recognition of the great work that Simmonds Stewart have done in making quality legal documents more available - in New Zealand, and now in Asia. Andrew Simmonds and his team have led the way in seeing the issue of availability and doing something significant about it.
As Andrew and Katherine Beck both note, the real opportunity is not to replace the relationship between clients and lawyers, but to create opportunities for a better relationship. More informed clients, working with efficient lawyers who can do work for them a lot more cheaply - and still make a good profit.
You can read the full story below.
LawHawk spreads wings with online legal templates
A Wellington legal services startup is using technology to give people and businesses better access to the law.
LawHawk was set up by corporate lawyer Gene Turner and it provides automated legal document templates online.
The idea is to make access to the law easier for everyone; something small businesses desperately need.
A New Zealand Law Society article quoted Auckland barrister Frances Joychild, QC, as saying that she estimated about half of New Zealand's population could not afford legal services, were they to need them.
Many small businesses cannot afford legal costs, even though setting up and running a business requires a number of legal processes.
Turner says these include working out what type of entity the business is, legal considerations involved with employing people and liability if things go wrong.
"There's a huge number of things you could stuff up pretty quickly if you didn't have good legal frameworks underpinning your business."
Turner suspects many people just search for information online because they can't afford to pay legal fees.
Compared with paying for a corporate lawyer, accessing document templates online could save business owners hundreds of dollars.
Turner charged $650 an hour at the law firm he worked at previously; all LawHawk templates cost less than $50, plus any costs to get a professional to customise the template for the specific needs of the client.
He says this way, lawyers also work more efficiently as they spend less time doing simple and repetitive tasks.
Andrew Simmonds is a partner at technology law firm Simmonds Stewart, which started offering free online legal templates about two-and-a-half years ago.
Working with a lot of early stage tech startups, Simmonds saw few had the money to spend on lawyers.
Simmonds says small business owners are taking care of their legal affairs better as a consequence of the templates and they are approaching their own lawyers with better information.
"The thing that's been best from our perspective is we've found clients who are coming to us are a lot better informed and we can do work for them a lot more cheaply."
The move to providing online legal services is a global one.
Hong Kong company Dragon Law was set up for the purpose of making legal services more accessible to businesses.
It sells subscriptions to templates for routine contracts and its software guides clients through the process of making their own documents.
American firm Rocket Lawyer provides online legal forms and for either US$39.95 or US$49.95 (NZ$54 or NZ$67) a month, clients can get their documents reviewed by a real lawyer, secure cloud storage and digital contract signing.
Venture capital investment firm GV was part of a group that injected US$18.5 million (NZ$25m) into Rocket Lawyer.
New Zealand Law Society president Kathryn Beck says there has been a focus on reducing compliance requirements and much of this has focused on small businesses.
The development of online dispute resolution systems and tools could be particularly important for small businesses, but regardless of what the service is, it could never beat the direct human contact between a lawyer and client.
"It will always be hard to find a substitute for the valuable relationship between a lawyer who acts for a small business and who keeps it updated with changes in the law, changes in compliance requirements, and helps resolve employment issues and other matters. That's not something which can necessarily be achieved by one-off contact online."