In the process of re-shooting some help videos for our website, I was reminded just how far HotDocs has come in the past few years from their previous "HotDocs Classic" products to the new HotDocs Advance suite.
Did you notice that Public Trust recently launched an online wills and enduring powers of attorney service? Yes, you did read that right. Even Public Trust now have online wills and enduring powers of attorney.
You may be thinking this presents an issue for LawHawk, given we also offer online wills and enduring powers of attorney. It probably will affect part of our business. We may lose some online opportunities to Public Trust, but at the same time their presence online will also help to grow the overall online market. Time will tell but I think it's a positive move for making wills and EPAs more accessible.
Online wills and enduring powers of attorney are still very much a niche offer, appealing to those who are comfortable or prefer doing the whole process themselves online, or who either cannot afford, or choose not to pay the costs of, a traditional legal service.
Our online offers direct to the public represents only a small part of our overall business. The larger part of our focus – as it always has been - is working with law firms to help them to offer a better and more affordable service to their clients, while also making this a more satisfying and profitable part of the practice.
In my opinion, this further shift towards online wills and enduring powers of attorney should be of greater concern to law firms in respect of their own practices. Until relatively recently, law firms were in total control of when and how clients could get wills and powers of attorney, and what it would cost. The only real competition was the trustee companies. One was recovering from significant financial and operational issues, and the other was only working 4 days per week. Both had reputations for poor service and high fees. So not much competition, and no great surprise that law firms felt no pressure to innovate their own services.
Now, both of the trustee companies have online capabilities and are pushing them hard.
How should law firms respond? I can see several possible options. The first two are:
Much of what we do here at LawHawk is far more about relationships, rather than technology.
There are so many ways of doing things better, using different types of technology or none, that you can only figure out the right approach for a particular customer through collaborative, open, discussion.
I believe this is true in any industry, but particularly in legal because many common processes are so overly complex – and sometimes bizarre – that it can be hard to unpick how they currently work, and how they ideally would work given the people involved and other relevant circumstances, without really good communication and trusting relationships.
Two things particularly reminded me of this recently.
On 9 April, Rohan Cochrane (Director, Family Law Specialists) and I delivered a webinar for the New Zealand Law Society on Remote witnessing and signing of documents during COVID-19 lock-down.
There were nearly 4,000 people on the webinar, which gives some indication of the extent to which lawyers are looking for new solutions at this time.
We didn't have a lot of time to prepare for the webinar, as it was put together on short notice. My thinking was still coming together during the webinar, as I saw questions coming through on the chat feed. It’s continuing to evolve, which is why I’m writing this post.
Our goal in the webinar was to look at some of the areas that appear to be causing the most issues, and to identify the most practical approaches we could.
We weren't suggesting that anything we said was sure to be legally effective, or accepted by every other party to a process (e.g. the recipient of an affidavit).
We also weren't suggesting that these were the only, or even the best way to manage things. I’m working on further ideas, and would certainly be keen for others that were on the webinar to build further on our suggestions, or to come up with better alternatives, and share those.
Having had a little more time to reflect on things, I’ve been able to summarise my thinking further. These views are my own, and not necessarily those of Rohan, the NZLS, or anyone else!
[Originally posted 9 May 2017. Updated 14 November 2019].
A number of my other blog posts have suggested clients should look at how their lawyers work and ask questions, like what systems do they have? What training do they do to ensure they provide the best levels of service?
This time I want to look at the related topic of pricing. I say related topic, because the pricing options a law firm can offer will depend heavily on the systems they have. A firm that has not invested in good systems is unlikely to be able to offer transparent and certain pricing.
Perhaps reflecting this lack of investment in systems, many lawyers still use hourly rate billing and loose estimates of cost based on time that will be spent (e.g. $3,000 to $5,000...), which is inherently unsatisfactory for clients as it contains little incentive to be efficient and can often lead to nasty bill shocks (e.g. $7,000) at the end of the matter when the lawyer advises that it took longer than they thought it would.
To try and get good value, clients often focus on discounts to the hourly rate, which does not solve the problem if the number of hours is open ended. The firm could just throw 5 people onto a simple job.
Pricing in this way can be a complete finger in the air, where not only would different lawyers within a firm be likely to charge different amounts for the same piece of work, but the same lawyer could charge different amounts on a different day. Isn't that bizarre?
Firms that can give greater clarity and certainty on pricing - while still giving good outcomes and not taking shortcuts - should be rewarded by clients. But, for that to happen, clients have to look beyond hourly rates and ask the right questions.
The law regarding break allowances for employees has recently changed.
The Employment Relations Amendment Act 2018 has amended the Employment Relations Act 2000 to state that:
“an employee is entitled to, and the employee’s employer must provide the employee with, rest breaks and meal breaks”.
Are you up to speed with the new changes and what they require?
ILANZ 2018 was another hugely energising and enjoyable event. Thank you to everyone involved in organising it!
The official theme of this year’s ILANZ was “No 8 wire”, as a nod to our in-house lawyers' ingenuity and ability to innovate with limited resources. Last year, I used this term in my blog to describe some of the cobbled-together solutions delegates were using – it was a term of endearment. This year, I'm a little less certain we should be celebrating this.