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The “New Age” of the Legal Profession: Which Direction Are We Going and What Is the Uberisation of the Legal Practice
The legal practice, as an independent service which aims to provide legal assistance to individuals and legal entities, represent a constitutional category in our legal system whose organisation and work are regulated in detail by the Law on Attorneys’ Profession of the Republic of Srpska. As any other areas of social life and work, the legal services market is essentially transformed due to the globalisation and the emergence of modern technologies.
The process of technological development has led to the expansion of the electronic contract conclusion phenomenon in relation to the sale and purchase of goods or providing various services. Electronic commerce, i.e. exchange of goods and services, primarily takes place through web sites and mobile applications, and it is followed with conclusion of various types of contracts. Historically, the development of electronic commerce began primarily with the appearance of internet sites for sale of goods, so Amazon was established in 1994 and just a year later, the E-bay platform emerged. Only later well-known platforms for the provision of services over internet have appeared (Paypal – 1998, Booking – 1996, but only after connecting with Booking Online 2000 it achieved today’s function, Airbnb – 2008, etc.). Today, if you want to travel to another city or abroad, it is almost inconceivable that you do not previously make a reservation of accommodation (and payment) through websites like Booking or Airbnb. In the United States, as well as in the western European countries, there is service of taxi transportation by the Uber Company. According to that, the name was given to a new phenomenon on the electronic market of goods and services, so called Uberization, which represents the operating model of business and transaction management using modern internet platforms, with maximum cost and time savings.
The key to the success of applications such as Airbnb or Uber lies in the confidence that service users have in the system, and only then in the immediate service provider that provides their services through the said internet platforms. In other words, once you book accommodation through Airbnb, you don’t do it because you trust the person who owns the accommodation and who announce the same, but because you trust that anyone who provides services through Airbnb meets certain criteria and conditions.
The question is whether it is possible to expect similar changes in the market of lawyer services, i.e. whether in the future we can expect the so-called uberization of the legal profession and the provision of legal services.
The previous assumption that had to be fulfilled in order to introduce the uberization of the legal profession is shifting the focus of legal services from classic representation in court proceedings to legal consulting services, precisely with an aim to prevent possible disputes in business practice. Further development, driven by globalization and the need for a more favourable business environment, requires a certain degree of deregulation of the practice of law, in order to provide more flexible conditions for the provision of services in this field. If at some point in the development of our market appears an application intended for the provision of legal services, which would be based on the sharing economy and peer-to-peer basis then it would create a possibility to get services from experts in various fields of law while staying in the comfort and convenience of your own home, while you would pay the said using electronic banking. The service would be available to the service user for 24 hours a day, and due to the growth of competition, individuals, as well as small and medium-sized enterprises, would have easier access to the required legal services with less time and money. In addition, a great advantage of such a service is the lesser formality and the absence of the need to visit a lawyer’s office in order to obtain a legal advice.
The algorithms for recognising an adequate expert to provide a service in a particular case would be based on the data entered into the application relating to the facts of the subject legal matter, the area of law to which the potential service relates, the satisfaction of previous users of the services, etc. This would ensure greater efficiency and transparency of the service provided, and the client could have an advance estimate of the price for the legal advice provided. This would force service providers to achieve a maximum efficiency and productivity, with a constant commitment to develop its services due to the market competitiveness, which would ultimately benefit service users in terms of increased security and quality of service.
The large law firms and companies that keep pace with technological developments and provide their services with the most exceptional standards of professionalism and commitment to the client would soon be profiled as leaders on such platforms. However, more flexible regulations in this area would also lead to the emergence of so-called freelancers, i.e. lawyers who are not employed by large firms and who provide legal services at significantly lower fees.
Although, at first glance, it would appear that the emergence of freelancers in the market of the provision of legal services would constitute a negative phenomenon for larger law firms and companies, it should equally consider the potential advantages that these entities would have from the phenomenon of freelance providers through online platforms. The most considerable advantage would be the ability to hire freelancers as external consultants to work on ambitious projects that require experts in a broad range of legal fields. If, for example, a law firm does not have a specialist in its respective team, who is specialized in a particular field of law, the firm could then hire a freelancer, on the basis of a certain type of work contract, and thus compensate for this shortcoming and enable the firm to participate in such projects.
The new rules set by the UK Solicitors Regulation Authority, according to which from November 2019 a solicitor can provide legal advice as freelancer, without the need to register an independent office or a firm, show that such market appearances are not a distant future.
Time will show whether the uberization of the practice of law in our market is possible and in which direction it will move. Currently, all these visionary changes may never materialise, and the practice of law may retain its classic physiognomy. On the other hand, using and providing legal consulting services through online platforms for 10 or 20 years could be just as common as use of Airbnb or Booking today.