This post was originally written in preparation for a conference by the Trust for Legal Information (Stiftelsen för rättsinformation) on ‘Law as a Service’. Being inspired by last year’s VQ Forum, and an blog post titled ‘I Am Now an App™ by Jason Wilson, I would like to share some ideas and thoughts.
When we talk about law as a service or law as an app, we could start by discussing what law is. While legal theorists have done this for quite some time now, there is still no generally accepted answer. If we – more practically – assume that law is there for a purpose – the purpose of making society run smoothly and avoiding unbalance – one could assume that society should be aware of the law on a daily basis in order to allow it to run smoothly.
The ideal law app, therefore, tells a person in advance – proactively – if a legal problem is near and how to avoid it. This could be compared to a GPS navigator warning a car driver of a nearby traffic jam and suggesting alternative routes. Think about how many legal disputes could be prevented just by getting the right information/advice at the right time.
Though not many proactive apps exist in general, yet, a few allow proactive measures. Within the health sector programmes can facilitate living with diabetes allowing check-ups on insulin levels. Productivity apps remind the user of next actions depending on time and/or location.
Most currently available legal applications (Law, Legal ), provide users with legal information, not legal knowledge, however good the quality (e.g. Oxfords Dictionary on Law Enforcement). Some apps even provide networking and discussion functions and simple interactive legal advice.
The next step is to set statutes and cases in a context, in order to consider the situation the user is in, especially concerning private individuals. By utilising the context, geographic location, personal situation, family history, general interests, common shopping interests of a person, a legal app could offer a remedy before a legal issue arises and therefore be more effective than court proceedings taking place after the legal problem already occurred. Privacy issues are, of course, very important, here, and personal integrity has to be considered and protected.
Existing online legal services are on a good way to increase the proactiveness of law and make it less about law than organising one’s life in general. A constant legal health check could, for example, improve the general situation of a person or company and move the legal risk from the ambulance car to the fence on the cliff.
A few questions remain unanswered, however. Two of these are:
- Who should deliver theses services? This question is related to trust. As Apple™ succeeded in digital music, other organisations than law firms may play an important role in future legal services. In some countries, such as the UK, legislation, such as the Legal Services Act, facilitate this development. When developing these services, legal knowledge as well as technology and user friendliness are of importance and law firms might not necessarily be good in all of these areas.
- Should there be one supplier of legal services or several? While this is a question that the market will decide eventually, the current situation reflects a flora of different specialised legal services. One can imagine a mixture of a few suppliers close to the consumers that offer bundled services and a larger number of legal services that specialise in certain areas of law.
In conclusion, the legal industry might not always be the first to test new tools or strategies, but the future will sooner or later catch up and context and proactiveness will be the new buzzwords. One example of a legal app with a more futuristic approach is Wolfram Lawyer’s Professional Assistant, which offers very interesting and cool functionalities. While it does not provide a legal GPS for individuals yet, it might just prove that law firms are not necessarily the best to deliver useful proactive apps, though the importance of lawyers being involved during development should not be underestimated.