Xingan Li. LLD, University of Turku, Finland (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Legal services have long been practiced under a monopolistic mode, face-to-face consultation between lawyers and clients being the prototype. Pervasive use of information systems provides the possibility for clients to access legal services in a more cost-effective way. Lawyers have to consider role-transformation and service-transformation. The clients’ requirement for change and the lawyers’ willingness to transform provide eLawyer with a sturdy foundation.
The term “eLawyer” can be loosely defined as an electronic system more or less assisting lawyers to provide and clients to receive legal services. In this paper, I would like to introduce current development in the respect of eLawyer. As a website, eAvocat’s self-introduction states that, “eLawyer is a management application for a law firm using Internet technology and that allows besides an easy management and monitoring of a law firm, easy access from clients to their dossiers and documents.” (URL: http://www.amorphys.com/company/news/The_eLawyer_presentation_website_is_online_.html). In this sense, eLawyer has sense in overall eservices industry and deserves research. Friedman (1999, 2001a, 2001b) dealt with providing legal advice to clients through the WWW. However, legal advice is only a part of overall legal services. In this paper, a broad outlook on legal service is applied, and I will give some basic ideas about how the eLawyer should be structured and operated, which parties are involved, what kind of relationship they have, what services they transact, and what limitations there are in eLawyer services.
Legal service is purely a knowledge work, whether people nominate it or not. It is a process that the client, who was not trained to have sufficient legal knowledge and skills, acquires legal advices from the lawyer, who was trained to have sufficient legal knowledge and skills, by paying a very big sum of commission. It is so that no state in the world provides sufficient resources inPage 197 training a great number of people to have sufficient legal knowledge to exercise law in the country. Only one in hundreds of thousands of people can be trained and granted a lawyer’s qualification at the end of a long-lasting competitive procedure, and after she/he gets a license she/he can do so. Thus her/his knowledge and skills would be very expensive for potential clients to purchase and consume. Monopoly of resources in legal education lead to monopoly of knowledge and skills, and in turn leads to monopoly of market for legal services. One single lawyer cannot monopolize the market of legal services, yet the whole market is in fact monopolized by all the lawyers as a whole. This monopoly is usually supported by the state power. That’s why this monopolistic status can be challenged by no one.
Unfortunately, unlike other services where people can create added-value by access to the existing market, transforming lawyer into eLawyer would not create more lawyers than before. eLawyer is operating in the old market and takes on a new outlook. It is not a force to change the monopolistic situation, but to simplify the process of human-human interaction which is a necessity in transaction of legal services. Similar transactions are prostitution, massage, medical operation, haircut, and so on. They are all examples of services that cannot be substituted by non-human-human interaction.
In this service, the two parties have different roles and status:
The service provider is lawyer (or in the name of attorney, solicitor, barrister, counselor-at-law, legal advisor, etc.). The transaction process of legal services can be simplified by adopting eLawyer. To search and hire a lawyer online save much of the client’s offline attempt. Some kinds of or some parts of legal services can also be provided through eLawyer. Particularly, preparation for some kinds of legal forms can largely be submitted to the lawyer through eLawyer website, but the lawyer’s personal involvement is still a must.
The service recipient may be plaintiff or pursuer, and defendant in civil and administrative cases; suspect or defendant in criminal cases; parties to the contract or agreement, and so on. All of these kinds of parties can be an individual, a group of individuals, or an organization, or a group of organizations.
Traditionally, relationship between the lawyer and the client is closely tied by human-human interaction. By eLawyer, the human-human interaction relationship between the lawyer and the client is only slightly intervened by the introduction of human-machine-human interaction.
In eLawyer services, a database of law might be grasped by the service provider. But access to the database is not necessarily a core service of eLawyer, because access to database itself could not constitute a part of legal advices. It can be said that law itself provides only general advices (proscriptions and prescriptions) to all citizens. But legal advices are those that targeted at detailed cases of the clients. Thus access to database of law does not constitute a core service of eLawyer, because a database is not a lawyer and no human-human interaction or even human-machine-human interaction is involved there. It can be seen as a human-machine interaction, a half interaction between human beings.
In practice, legal services are usually provided in particular situations, for example, in...