In many industries, products are democratizing and becoming all the more accessible for the everyday person. Whether it’s currency, investing, or law – we can access them all at the click of a touchscreen button.
Law services is an interesting space right now. Traditionally, law services have been extremely pragmatic. Consulting with a lawyer either over the phone or in person has dominated the way we approach legal action. However, the power of the Internet holds no bars, and we have got to a stage where law services are now being digitized by tech companies.
And why not? Law services don’t need to be long-winded like their historical connotations. If something can be done faster, cheaper, and at the click of a button, then this shouldn’t be resisted.
Digital legal services – are they legitimate?
There’s absolutely no reason why – in theory – legal services cannot be facilitated through technology. In general, there will be two types of digital legal services: law firms that are online, and tech companies that are automating legal services. Whilst different, both can be legitimate.
It’s not always easy to tell which is which, but you can find out by searching the company history. Or, more easily, if the company is offering personalized service, or customer service with in-house lawyers, then this is an indication that they’re an experienced law firm.
Tech companies, on the other hand, lack this type of professional customer service or support. Instead, they often have temporarily used legal experts to create online templates in which customers can then fill in. These are legitimate because they have been designed by experts and updated to contemporary changes, but are no doubt limiting.
Such templates, like when filling in an online will, lack nuance. This is fine if your estate lacks nuance, but if you’re dealing with a complex situation, then online law firms offering personalized service will be a better option. So, it becomes the responsibility of the customer to decide which online legal company is best for them.
To further clarify this distinction, you are either buying an online service, or an online product. Both can work, but the former is more expensive, yet more comprehensive.
Online wills – a perfect example
The online will is perhaps the ultimate example of this trend towards digital law. They have seen tremendous growth in the past year, in part because of Covid-19. It’s not only the pandemic that has caused people to question their own mortality. The mere logistics of going to a legal office seems like a genuine hurdle right now.
Both of these reasons have brewed up a lot of demand for online wills. Whilst it’s easy to brush off the need for a will when you don’t feel vulnerable, it’s difficult to excuse when the process has become as easy as posting on Facebook. It’s easy to see why they’re so popular, given that they cost a fraction of what a lawyer will charge you for a will.
Tech-driven companies that offer templates are often sold around $50, or even less in some cases. These take all of half an hour to complete, depending on which company you use. As we can see with the Trust & Will review, these firms are super accessible and easy-to-use. Wording when creating these will templates are kept jargon-free, so there’s little room for human error.
Trust & Will, for example, offers trusts, wills, and guardianship documents. By simplifying their company down to just these three services, they can easily stay on top of new regulation changes and further optimizing user experience.
If you’re willing to pay more for a more personalized service where the will is reviewed by an expert lawyer, then some of Trust & Will’s competitors offer this. Generally, these law firm competitors will offer a wider range of law services too, such as intellectual property, LLC formation, Power of Attorney, and rental agreements.
In the case of Trust & Will, most plans will take around half an hour to complete. For $89, a fairly comprehensive will can be created with an exceedingly simple template. The price is on the higher end for will makers that are not offering expert guidance, but this money is going towards their flawless online infrastructure. As stated above, this isn’t ideal for complex situations.
When is visiting a lawyer recommended?
Online law services are not flawless; lawyers wouldn’t exist if they were. They do a fantastic job at streamlining and optimizing for convenience. However, time saved comes at a cost. Not a monetary cost, but a cost of nuance.
For those in a complicated situation with lots of nuance, it’s recommended to see a lawyer in-person instead. Some things can be better explained verbally, for which the lawyer then has the expertise at articulating this in the format of a legal document. Relying on 30 minutes of closed-ended questions from an online tech company isn’t going to be comprehensive.
So, how to know if your situation is complicated? Well, in regards to wills, this would be if you have complicated relationships with close relatives. For example, separated-but-not-yet-divorced, relatives you no longer see, or anyone that you can suspect will challenge your will.
Another complicated situation is if your estate is complex. For example, if you own a large overseas company with a complicated ownership structure. Or, if you want your possessions to be given to the recipients in a delayed and specific fashion.
Finally, and this goes for any legal document, do not use an online service if you’re suffering from mental illness or would be suspected of not having capacity. For example, a history of psychosis or early-stage dementia could make it difficult for your will to be approved and valid. This would require getting a good lawyer and doing things in person, as it will hold more weight in court.
Fortunately, most of us have relatively simple situations that can be represented fairly on a legal document from an online provider.