The Changing Face of Legal Practice

April 30, 1998

Legal practice is set for dramatic change as we move forwardtowards the 21st Century. Over the last ten years, information technology andtelecommunications have more than revolutionised many business practices. Infact, they have pervaded into virtually every aspect of our modern lives fromentertainment to medicine. Computer systems have made a substantial impact onlegal practice to date with the advent of word processors, database, accounts,practice management software and now voice recognition. All these applicationsassist in the smooth and efficient running of a practice, but not in the directdelivery of legal services.

The technology now exists to deliver legal services directly to the client.This has great implications for the legal profession, which now more than everrequires to embrace information technology as client led demands and competitivepressure greatly increase. Technology can now productise routine legal practice;this means that services can be electronically packaged and a fixed fee appliedfor delivery to clients, achievable through the use of a combination oftechnologies, discussed in more detail below.

A market that can be productised will be so. The technology is here and thelegal market is ready. Competition is likely to come from a variety of sources -such as financial institutions, forever seeking to add to their mass marketpenetration. Banks are a good example of those institutions who have becomeexperts in the use of technology to systemise and streamline the delivery oftheir services and are well positioned to provide an effective assault on thelegal marketplace. Productisation can be viewed by lawyers as an opportunity ora threat. Lawyers exploiting technology are now in a position to reach new andlatent markets, increase productivity and add value to existing client services.Those who do not implement such systems will be prey to other lawyers orimminent institutional competition.

Interactive Document Assembly Systems

Recent years have seen the production of a number of interactive legaldocument assembly systems for sale to consumers through retail outlets such asPC World and through computer magazines. Desktop Lawyer, produced by EpochSoftware, is one such system; it has over 25 fully interactive legal documentsavailable, from a Partnership Agreement to a Will. It is an expert system, whichtakes the consumer through a question and answer sequence, giving examples andexplanations along the way. At the end of this process the documentautomatically drafts itself ready for printing and execution. Desktop Lawyerrepresents legal services packaged in a box, and has been purchased by manythousands of consumers.

However, a system like this does not address the need consumers or clientsmay have for follow-up attention by a lawyer. This type of additional servicewould require interactive delivery to clients directly from the law firm, sothat the law firm can, where necessary, advise on documents they themselves arefamiliar with. How can this be achieved? Well, the Internet and World Wide Webprovide a means for direct communication between lawyers and, equallyimportantly, between lawyers and their clients. The Internet has become a vitalmedium of direct commerce. This form of commerce is growing exponentially and onone recent estimate was worth over £50 billion per annum.

With appropriate specialised software any law firm’s Web site can be set upto provide interactive documents directly to clients, who can either purchaseany document using a credit card or, after establishing a credit account withthe law firm, can be billed at a later date. Credit card payments in real timeon the Internet have been approved by all the major banks – the most coherentcredit card payment service in the UK has, in my view, been implemented byNetbanx in Cambridge.

The documents available from a law firm’s Web site will take the form of asmall file which can be downloaded by the client directly. The downloadeddocument would then automatically integrate itself into an expert assemblysystem much like that described above. The assembly system would obviously needto be designed with Internet/network use in mind, and should enable clientsautomatically to send the completed computer-drafted documents together with thequestion and answer sequence back to the originating law firm for furtherassistance. The assembly system will have to be designed as a stand-aloneapplication that is easy to install and use. Consumers or clients do not have ITdepartments and more than most require software that is intuitive anduser-friendly.

All this describes a delivery method for a client-based assembly ofinteractive automated documents. We have, however, missed out a vital element -the origination of the template document for download by the client thatcontains all the text and logic to drive the assembly system the client willuse. The law firm will require a simple and straightforward method to takeexisting precedent documents and prepare them into template files for this formof delivery. For this, origination software is required that integrates with theassembly system.

Our DirectLaw System

IT will substantially alter delivery methods of legal services. In the lightof the predicted change, Epoch Software have been developing a coherent andcomprehensive combination of technologies. The result is Rapidocs Originator andRapidocs Assembler together with the DirectLaw Internet delivery service.

DirectLaw is an Internet system for the delivery of a law firm’sinteractive legal document templates through the World Wide Web. DirectLawprovides a seamless link to any law firm’s Web site and allows clients orprospective clients to pay (in real time with credit cards or via a creditaccount) and download document template files for assembly on the client’s ownPC. DirectLaw will also allow a client to order a document with furtherassistance, in which case a higher fee is levied and the client is able toreturn the completed document for additional advice. DirectLaw logs all salesand downloads and provides regular management reports to the law firms signed tothe service.

The documents are assembled by the clients using Rapidocs Assembler, a 32-bitdocument assembly expert system, which automatically integrates any downloadeddocument into one available for assembly. Rapidocs Assembler follows the sametried and tested document assembly methodology found in Desktop Lawyer but hassuperior functions and an updated interface, developed following customerfeedback. Rapidocs Assembler is provided free of charge to the client and willbe made available through a large number of computer magazine CD-ROMs inaddition to its availability for download through the Internet. Rapidocs canalso be used for rapid document assembly within the law firm, enabling lowergrade staff to produce first or final drafts of complex documents.

The templates for use with Rapidocs Assembler are produced with RapidocsOriginator, utilising 32-bit architecture to the full and ensuring a powerfuland easy-to-use application. Rapidocs Originator allows any document to be givena question and answer dialogue together with full logic to enable the documentto draft itself. This is achieved using no more than point and click – noprogramming or specialist knowledge is required. The template file produced byRapidocs Originator is small and efficient for transfer through the Internet andin addition tracks the author of the document, so that if required it will senditself back, once completed, to the appropriate location (by e-mail) for furtherassistance.

Landau & Cohen have been working closely with Epoch Software in theproduction of Rapidocs and DirectLaw and will boast a completely automated legalservice delivery system, available from June 1998. At present Epoch have ademonstration of the DirectLaw service available at


The Future

It is important to stress that legal practice is on the precipice of changeand that change starts now. Lawyers will all require to be connected on internalnetworks to each other and externally to both their clients and other lawyersthrough the Internet. Legal information and services will be a simple matter ofdirect access. By no means does this affect the need for lawyers. On thecontrary it broadens and extends the market. It also redirects the personalservice ethos of current practice. Meeting a client face-to-face is no longervital, instead remote access through telecommunications provides a moreconvenient medium to a wider client base.