The New Legal Consumer (part 2)

In part 1 of this article, we learned that the new legal consumer is an online consumer who is informed, connected and picky. In part 2, we’ll first look at some statistics that will help us better understand the new legal consumers. Then we’ll have a look at how to accommodate them.

Some statistics

The research done by avvo.com reveals new patterns of behaviour of online legal consumers, as the following statistics illustrate.

What are they doing online?

  • 42% are doing their own legal research online.
  • 31% are doing research on the lawyers whose services they consider using.
  • 17% are using online legal forms to solve their problems.
  • 16% visit legal forums to get assistance with their legal issues.

How do they solve legal problems? The new legal consumers first try to solve their problems on their own.

  • 42% solve the problem on their own.
  • 42% hire a lawyer.

Interestingly, 20% of the interviewees thought they would end up knowing as much as a lawyer about their issue by doing online research.

While trying to solve their legal problem, they’re also looking for free online advice:

  • 32% get a free consult.
  • 21% get free advice from a lawyer by phone or email.
  • 15% call a legal help line.

Of those who use legal forms,

  • 66% get stuck at some point,
  • 39% get a consult from a lawyer, and
  • 33% end up hiring a lawyer.

How are they finding lawyers?

  • 31% find a lawyer by doing online research.
  • 25% find a lawyer through referrals, but 45% of those will then still first research the lawyer online.

Significant in this context is that 95% of those looking for a lawyer consider online reviews important. 45% even labelled online reviews ‘very important.’

56% of legal consumers say they value a hotline that connects them directly to a lawyer.
76% of respondents also said they prefer fixed fee billing.

Accommodating the new legal consumers

So what can we learn from all this to help us accommodate the new legal consumers? In his report, Nika Kabiri advises to reach the consumers where they are and to give them what they’re looking for. Stephen Furnari (from Law Firm Suites, www.lawfirmsuites.com) suggests a three-pronged approach to achieve this. The key words are: cultivate / offer / engage.

Cultivate online consumers: make sure you have a strong online presence. If allowed, publish online reviews by your customers, and/or use review sites. Offer assistance via email and chat, either online or on mobile.

Offer what they are looking for: offer unbundled services, where they can ask your assistance, e.g., for one specific item. Offer fixed fee projects. Offer to review forms and documents. Offer strategy sessions.

Engage with online consumers: offer on-demand services. Answer legal questions online. Participate in discussions on online forums and/or community chats that deal with legal matters.

This three-pronged approach of cultivating and engaging with consumers, and adapting the services you offer, will help converting online consumers into customers.

Sources

The New Legal Consumer (part 1)

The Internet started a technological revolution, which in turn sparked a consumer revolution. You probably already have bought books, CDs or DVDs online. Or you may have opted for eBooks, mp3s and/or on demand streaming services for movies, TV shows and music. Many people buy their tickets for concerts and performances online. The same goes for plane tickets. Restaurants and hotels allow you to make online reservations, while fast-food chains even let you place your order online. Chances are your local supermarket offers the opportunity for you to order your groceries online, and then they’ll organize delivery for you. In short, we have become online consumers.

As we have become online consumers, our purchasing behaviour has changed as well. How we buy online is different from how we used to buy. In the past, before the Internet, the traditional ‘path to purchase’ model was very straightforward, and involved 3 steps: awareness (of the product or service), consideration, and purchase. That linear model no longer applies. If I want to buy a product or service, I’ll do some research on it first. I’ll compare what’s on offer, and what the prices are. I’ll read reviews written by other consumers who have bought the product or used the service, and, if available, I’ll check out what rating other consumers give, etc. In other words, the process that leads to the actual purchase has become far more complex, and involves far more factors than before.

This change in consumer behaviour also applies to the legal consumer. There are examples of people who have settled their divorces without employing any lawyers. People write their own wills and their prenuptial agreements, using forms and legal document generators they find online. Some have set up companies with limited liability, etc. And with all the information that is available on the Internet, people are more prone to first do their own research, before consulting a lawyer.

Some months ago, Avvo.com published an interesting study on the new legal consumer: Nikka Kabiri, Sink or swim: How to adapt to the New Legal Consumer, 27 April 2016, avvo.com. (A free copy can be obtained at http://go.avvo.com/new-legal-consumer-download, but registration is required).

On the behaviour of the new legal consumers, Kabiri says (p.5): “Consumers have described their process of finding a legal solution as unmethodical, a mix of online and offline behavior with no real strategic process, largely because of the information and solutions available to them on the internet. People follow advice from lawyers they don’t even know – because these lawyers happened to be online. They hire a lawyer but then go back online to do research. While online, they follow one link after another to a variety of different sources, often reading the same information more than once, much of this information found on other lawyers’ websites. They may do this over days, weeks, even months, until their issue is resolved. Eighty-five percent go online weekly to resolve their legal issue (40% are online daily). All of this consumer behavior, taken in aggregate, reveals no one clear journey, no single discernible order to resolving legal issues. The New Legal Consumer’s “legal shopping” behavior is an unsystematic exploration of a variety of options that, before the internet, was simply unavailable to them.

In spite of this unmethodical and unsystematic approach to finding solutions for legal problems, Kabiri finds three major characteristics that can help us understand the behaviour of the new legal consumers (p.6 ff.). He describes them as informed, connected, and picky.

Informed

There is plenty of legal information available online, and people are using it. They want to know more about their issue, and they are researching it online, by themselves, before even considering using the services of a lawyer. And they don’t shy away from the professional legal literature. The new legal consumers are reading legal articles; they value state codes as well as case law, where they look for precedents that provide information that may be relevant for their legal issue.

Connected

Because of the Internet, we are witnessing the emergence of communities of legal consumers. The new legal consumers have access to other legal consumers online. They look for others who have had similar issues, and they read others’ experiences in online forums and communities. They also specifically look for online reviews of legal services that are being offered, and are more likely to use the services for which they can find reviews.

Picky

The new legal consumers have access to diverse legal solutions online. They are using online forms and legal document generators. If given the choice, they prefer fixed-fee options. They also are attracted to unbundled services: they may, e.g., be filling out a form and get stuck on one or more items for which they need assistance. They will look for a lawyer online who can answer that question for them, and they’ll use his or her services for just that item.

As the legal market is changing, legal service provides have to adapt. In part 2, we’ll have a closer look at certain tendencies in the behaviour of the new legal consumer, and at the ways to accommodate the new legal consumers.

Sources

The bots are coming

In last week’s article, we mentioned the rise of virtual offices and websites that offer legal services. One of those, www.donotpay.co.uk, has drawn a lot of attention, recently. The website is the brain child of nineteen-year-old Joshua Browder, who refers to it as the world’s first robot lawyer. He created the website after he received more than thirty unfair traffic fines in London in just a few months, and wanted to appeal them. The website is designed to make that process as easy as answering a few questions, either by filling out a form, or in a chatroom. The website then files the appeal on your behalf, for free.

That Browder chose a chatroom solution that uses a chat bot shouldn’t come as a surprise. Indeed, experts have been predicting that the use of chat bots to interact with customers would constitute one of the biggest new technology shifts. After all, chatting apps are extremely popular, and offer users a familiar interface. Chances are you’ve already used a chat room to interact with IT support services or with companies’ customer services. The natural next step was that chat bots would get involved to automate and streamline the process. Tests have shown that the artificial intelligence used in chat bots has sufficiently matured to pass the Turing Test, i.e., the person interacting with the chat bot does not realise he or she is interacting with a chat bot. In the US, e.g., chat bots are already being used successfully in fast food chains to process online orders. Or you can just call an Uber through Facebook Messenger. Chat bots can also get you news headlines, weather forecasts, or traffic information. IT companies like Slack.com, e.g., already use a chat bot (called slackbot) for their online customer support. Microsoft acknowledged the potential of chat bots when it started working in March on tools that allow you to create your own chat bot on Skype.

With DoNotPay, the first legal chat bot is now a fact, too. When the website started offering Londoners an easy way to appeal unfair traffic fines for free, it did so with huge success: in less than two years’ time, 250 000 appeals were submitted and 160 000 of those were successful. As a result, approximately four million USD worth in parking tickets did not have to be paid. By now, people in New York can use the service as well. Seattle is next, and South Africa may follow as well. And that’s not all. Given its success, the website intends to extend the services it offers. Apart from appealing parking tickets, the website can now also assist you in claiming compensation if your flight was delayed.

In an interview with Fortune Magazine Catherine Bamford, a former lawyer in Leeds who advises law firms and corporate legal departments on automation, underlined how important this evolution is. “Access to justice for the non-wealthy is a serious concern. Legal aid budgets have been slashed in recent years. With helper bots like DoNotPay, some willing lawyers and expert programmers, legal advice could become cheap and accessible to everyone via the Internet. This is a real step in the right direction.”

The DoNotPay website wasn’t Joshua Browder’s first endeavour. The second-year IT student at Stanford, indeed has a nice track record already. As a thirteen-year-old he created an app for ‘Pret-a-manger,’ a sandwich chain, that became so popular that the company adopted it as its official app. He also contacted several human rights organizations offering his services for free. Some, like Freedom House (a human rights watchdog) and International Bridges for Justice accepted his offer.

We are likely to encounter more and more intelligent chat bots in the near future. And they won’t be limited to just support departments or customer services. One startup, x.ai, is already working on a virtual personal assistant, and uses the built-in chat bot to interact with people, e.g., to set up appointments, suggesting possible times, etc. It’s probably just a matter of time before law firms start using virtual legal assistants. In fact, IBM already offers a virtual legal research assistant. And that’s just the beginning. We can expect artificial intelligence aspects to be integrated in the user interfaces of legal software, replacing the more traditional wizards. And Law still is a field that deals with a lot of formalities. Robot lawyers that assist people with those, e.g., could be really useful, and could make things more transparent and accessible.

So, should lawyers be worried that legal robots will be taking over their jobs? Not really! After all, with each new technology arise new opportunities for lawyers, too. Take, e.g., liability questions: what if the robot lawyer makes a mistake, or if your virtual legal assistant sends out the wrong information? As long as there are legal conflicts, the need for lawyers will remain. (And that’s a good thing, because otherwise we would be out of job, too).

Sources:

 

The changing shape of the legal market

I always keep a close eye on how the legal market evolves. In the last ten years, we have witnessed quite a number of evolutions that have disrupted the traditional legal market. In a presentation at Lexpo 2016, held in March, Chris Bull gave an interesting overview of ten ways in which innovative business models have changed the market. (Chris Bull, An uncharted world: 10 ways in which innovative business models have changed the shape of the legal market forever, presentation at Lexpo 2016. Available on video at http://lexpo.com/videos). Here are the highlights.

  1. Investment

Ten years ago, a law firm typically consisted of partners who co-owned the firm. Now we see law firms that have external investors on board who are not lawyers. These can be insurance companies, accounting and consulting companies or plain capital investment companies.

  1. Corporation

As the correlate of the first evolution, we find more and more law firms in a more traditional commercial corporation model. Where ten years ago, law firms were partnerships, many law firms have adopted a corporate structure of a Limited company. In this corporate structure, law firms often have directors (CFOs, COOs, CIOs, etc.) who are not lawyers.

  1. Outsourcing

Law firms tend to focus more on specializing in certain fields than before. As a result, anything that is not part of their core business is subcontracted to third parties.

  1. Insourcing

Another way in which the legal market has been disrupted is by an increase in the insourcing done by the customers of the law firms. Bigger corporations tend to have bigger legal departments and do more in-house than before.

  1. Agile Firms

In the last ten years, we have also witnessed the emergence of ‘agile firms’. Four aspects set an agile firm apart. A) Role: ‘role’ has to do with who plays what part/role in the company. Apart from the partners, agile firms tend to use more paralegals, and temps, and have a larger diversity in who works full time or part time, etc. B) Place: where does the firm operate from? These days, many firms operate in a multi-site set-up. At the same time, people spend less time in the physical office and work more from home. There even are ‘shared service centres’ for lawyers. Traditionally, law firms were located in the city. Now they may just have an office there, where the main site of operation has moved to the outskirts of the city because it’s cheaper. C) Time: more and more firms are using flexible hours. Some companies have moved to a system where work hours are counted on an annual basis instead of per week or per month. D) Source: where do you find your people? Recruitment is no longer a matter of just prospecting at law schools.

  1. Start-ups

Over the last ten years, we have seen a tendency where bigger firms merge. In spite of that, the number of law firms remains more or less the same. As big firms merge, people also leave to set up their own start-ups. These start-ups typically operate differently.

  1. Legal Tech

Legal tech has dramatically changed over the last ten years. New on the scene are online offices, which can take one of two forms. On the one hand, there is the ‘Remote Office’. Here, lawyers are still involved and do the actual work. They don’t necessarily ever meet the customer in person but operate through a website front. On the other hand, there are offices that are entirely virtual: the AI office. Here no lawyer is involved. Everything is done through and by the website, using an Artificial Intelligence engine.

  1. Fixed Price

The traditional law firm worked with timesheets and billable hours. But because of market demands, more and more firms offer to work for fixed prices. That way the customer knows exactly in advance how much what will cost.

  1. Group Structure

Traditionally, law firms were single legal entities. Now we also see group structures that can be national or international. There may even be a holding company.

  1. Collaboration

Over the last years, there also has been a sharp increase in collaboration between law firms. These can take the form of collaboration networks, franchises, membership groups, purchasing groups, joint ventures, and/or firms using a common brand name.

All of the aforementioned changes have a dramatic impact on how the firm operates. But for CICERO LawPack 10, this is not a problem. It is designed to be able to handle things like multi-site set-ups, corporate accounting, etc.

Apache mod_rewrite doesn’t seem to work in Windows

I had this strange phenomenon that mod_rewrite instructions in the .htaccess file worked online on my ISPs server, but not on my local Windows machine that also has an Apache server running on it.

I kept getting 404 errors: page not found.

Which is a bit annoying: I’ve got drupal, joomla and other software running on my local server, but none of them could use ‘clean URLs,’ which is what I want to use.

It turns out that the default configuration of Apache on windows is to NOT allow .htaccess to be used.

So the problem wasn’t that the mod_rewrite didn’t work. The real problem was that the .htaccess file was just ignored.

The best solution for that is to modify your httpd.conf file. (Stop the Apache service before you modify it. Start it again when completed).

If you’ve installed, e.g, drupal in a directory “c:\websites\drupal” and you want to use mod_rewrite for clean URLs, then you’d have to add the following lines to the httpd.conf file:

<Directory “C:/websites/drupal/”>
AllowOverride All
Order allow,deny
Allow from all
</Directory>

You have to do this for each directory / folder you want to use .htaccess in.

The – far less secure- alternative is to change the default settings of your Apache and by default allow .htaccess to be used.