Will the future of law belong to large or small firms? It’s a debate that is ongoing.
Just under a year ago when I launched LawHawk, in an interview with LawTalk I said that “Document automation will be the way lawyers work – the key is how you will do it.”
I also said “I know people have been saying ‘change is coming’ for years without it happening, but this time it really is.”
“Yeah right!” a lot of lawyers would have said.
But things really are changing quickly in this space, and you can see this in the exhibitors at LawFest, New Zealand’s leading legal technology conference. This year there will be three specialist document automation solutions that I am aware of, none of which were available in New Zealand this time last year. Automation of legal documents is becoming mainstream. It is happening, even if you cannot see it, as this example demonstrates.
A lot of my recent blogs 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 week 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, as in this example.
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.
A month ago LawHawk and Succeed Legal released a free will that anyone in New Zealand can use. You can read more about this in this earlier post: Half of Kiwis over 18 don't have a will - what are we going to do about it?
We decided we would run the free will as a trial through to 30 April to begin with, as we wanted to be sure that it would work well in practice, and there weren’t any issues we hadn’t foreseen. Well, a month in we are very happy with how it has gone and have decided to keep it going.
In this blog, I look at what our objectives were and the extent to which they were achieved. In particular, I look at the current and future role of lawyers in relation to drafting and advising on wills and how that could change when the drafting has been automated.
The most interesting developments in the last month...
It’s been quite a month for legal tech in New Zealand, with several announcements by New Zealand firms that are worth of mention.