Bar News - October 16, 2009
Opinion: E-Lawyering Canít Replace Face Time
By: Andrew Myers
"E-lawyering" is getting much attention, offering online help with various legal tasks. Thereís a child-support calculator. There are legal sites that figure whether people qualify for Chapter 7 or 13 bankruptcies. Will kits and instant business startups are also big. The Web sites generate legal forms and take your money electronically.
The American Bar Association has a task force on the subject. Co-chairman Richard Granat recently explained in a magazine article that attorneys who donít jump on the e-lawyering train are likely to be out of business in five years. (Wired Magazine, Aug. 24, 2009.)
Sounds like one of those prognostications like we were all going to be transporting ourselves around in jet packs or cars that fly, Jetson-style.
If youíre ordering a book or a sweater for Aunt Molly, sure, filling out quick forms and giving your credit card is the way to go.
It is true that at its most basic, child support is largely calculated based on a mathematical formula spelled out in state law.
But, what people of the ABA task force ilk forget is that what attorneys do is not just "filliní out forms."
Legal problem-solving is a process in which human beings discuss facts, place them in context, then review them analytically with some logic.
You donít try a case "virtually." I tried a week-long trial recently. The judge came to the property and climbed around on the rocks and the underbrush for a "view." We introduced over 100 exhibits in the courtroom. You canít do this stuff hiding behind a screen.
After litigating a corporate squeeze-out and a couple of will contests, I write better documents than when it was just paper with words on it.
Sure you can download forms and fill in stuff. But, youíre riding down a chute with blinders. A bankruptcy client recently thanked me when I suggested a modification, which is now in process. People who come to me for a will seldom realize that a will is only one of three ways to pass property along, and they may well have forgotten to take an "ex" off one of their beneficiary statements.
You go online to do a form, youíre blinded to other issues confronting you.
Thereís an online settlement service that pitches itself to insurance companies and lawyers for the resolution of lawsuits such as car accidents and other cases. An e-offer is made by the insurance company and the attorney then accepts, rejects or raises the odds. But, anyone smarter than a fifth grader figures the system out pretty quickly and holds out to the last round- If the insurance company and the attorney just picked up the phone and had an old-fashioned conversation, horrors, they would likely achieve a better result in less time.
If I go out of business in five years, it wonít be because I failed to genuflect to the e-king. Call me then. Weíll talk.
Andrew Myers of Derry has law offices in Derry and North Andover, Mass.
Editorís Note: This article first appeared in the Derry News and is reprinted here with permission. In a related story, see the article Virtual Law 1.0 from the September issue of Bar News, which features a New Hampshire law firm using software developed by Richard Granat.