Scottish Group Report: The Commoditisation of Legal Services – The Killer Legal APP?

January 1, 2000

Johan Hall of NETLEX Legal & Financial Portals ( reports on a Meeting of the Scottish Group held jointly with theIn-House Lawyers Group of the Law Society of Scotland at Standard Life, Tanfield,Edinburgh, 13 October 1999.

E-commerce and new software can revolutionise the way legal services aredelivered. The Desktop Lawyer Service ( and the Rapidocsoftware from Epoch Software ( bring opportunities andthreats to legal practices. In a vivacious and challenging presentation, Grahameand Richard Cohen of Epoch Software spoke about their new online service to acapacity audience of about 140.

Desktop Lawyer

Desktop Lawyer is an online commercial legal service where customers(clients) can purchase at a stated price and download their own legal documentsby using Rapidocs software. By answering questions the Rapidocs Assemblersoftware will create the legal document to fit the situation. If the client hasdownloaded a will, the Rapidocs Assembler puts forward several questions andalters the will throughout according to the client’s answers. When allquestions have been answered it is possible to view and print the legaldocument.

All the legal documents offered by Desktop Lawyer have been prepared bybarristers chambers at 11 Stone Building, who have formed themselves into alimited company to support the service. At the moment all offered documents aredrafted to comply with the laws of England and Wales but Scottish documents willbe offered in the near future and a sample Scottish will document was shown.

Apart from buying legal documents online it is also possible to buyaccompanying legal advice, if needed, which is then delivered by telephone.Epoch Software calls this strategy ‘click and mortar’ because clients areoffered not only e-commerce but also a possibility to get advice from solicitorsworking from offices.

Real E-commerce

Most of the so-called e-commerce companies deliver real goods or sells books online but, at the end of the day, they have to deliverthe goods with an accompanying marginal cost. Desktop Lawyer’s legal productsare stored and delivered in a digital form which means that the marginal costfor selling the product is virtually nil. The legal products are sold as oneproduct to many clients. Ensuring assured and recognised standards of quality isimportant. An incorrectly drafted document might be delivered to many clientsbefore the document is corrected.

Repackaging of Legal Services

The repackaging of some legal services as legal products will inevitably leadto new entrants into the legal services market. If law firms are not prepared todeliver legal products online, someone else will. Epoch Software offers, apartfrom Desktop Lawyer, e-commerce solutions where law firms can set up their owne-commerce businesses with their own prepared legal documents. In this way EpochSoftware invites law firms to compete with their own online legal service.

Rapidocs Originator and Rapidocs Assembler

The software that enables the commoditisation of legal services isfundamental to the set-up of an e-commerce business. With Rapidocs Originator itis possible to transform an existing document such as a will or employmentagreement to an ‘intelligent’ document. This is done by removing static textsuch as a name or address and then adding questions, which will be asked duringassembly and which are to be answered by the intended user. Additionallogic-based questions to control conditional paragraphs and rules to undertakecalculations can also be added. With the Rapidocs Assembler, a prepared documentis assembled by the intended user. During the assembly process, RapidocsAssembler asks the questions you have set during origination and, as each isanswered, the document is automatically drafted.

Rapidocs can, of course, also enable the preparation of documents for freepublication on the Web or internally on an intranet within an organisation.

Productivity Tool

What is, at least, as interesting as using software like Rapidocs to enablee-commerce is the possibility to enhance productivity within an organisation.One example could be in-house-lawyers equipping the sales force with preparedsales documents which could be assembled and printed by the sales peoplethemselves. Persons with a non-legal background could in this way carry outlegal work.

The financial services sector has for many years benefited from software likeMicrosoft Excel, enabling people with a non-financial background to performcomplicated financial calculations. Could Rapidocs become the Excel for thelegal services sector – the Holy Grail of the killer legal app?