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Online wills spinning a web of problems?

Mark Briegal – Partner & Partnership Law Expert

I have commented before that the high street lawyer is the one under most threat from the opening up of the legal profession in October this year.  Anything that can be easily commoditised will be.

Any legal service that is aimed at consumers and small businesses will be branded and supplied with better customer service levels than many solicitors can offer today.

The issue that worries me is quality.

There is a difference between good customer care and good legal advice.  If you are buying a product, the product is reasonably easy to evaluate and customer service is one of the attributes of the product that makes it attractive or not.

Price is also a key element.  I’m happy to fly Ryanair for short trips as it’s cheap and I know the core service is good (their planes are safety checked by various bodies) but I know their customer service (how can I put this in a non-defamatory way) is to a different standard.  If I am buying conveyancing I need to be reasonably sure I will own my house at the end.  The conveyancer is insured so I am reasonably safe buying on price.

Will writing is more complex.  There have been a number of cases recently of non-qualified will writers getting it horribly wrong.  The person’s wishes would then not be carried out after their death.  I acted for some clients who had bought a Limited Liability Partnership Agreement off the internet.  It was fine in many ways, but it did not cover the one area that they needed – what to do if they fell out.  They did fall out and the agreement was of no use.  A good solicitor would have known that and made sure there was a deadlock clause in the agreement.

The idea of having lawyers check documents downloaded is clever and may well be a good half way house.  A good algorithm may well work through a number of complex what-if scenarios to import the right clauses to a will or a partnership agreement, but an experienced lawyer may be able to get there quicker.

I think simple services will be commoditised.  Consumers need to be sure they are getting what they think they are getting.  A will is not a tin of beans.