Should the Entire Legal System Be Web-Based?

Lora Bentley

Last week, I spoke to RocketLawyer CEO Charles Moore about his business and how small-business owners and consumers alike could benefit from Web-based legal services. They save money when they can take advantage of the legal forms offers so they can do the work themselves, they save money when they can find an attorney in a lower-priced market within their state of residence, and they save time because they don't have to physically go to the attorney's office every time something needs to be accomplished.


Cloud computing, or operating in a hosted environment, can present some problems in terms of client confidentiality and data security because the servers on which the information is stored are often in different locations and may be subject to different privacy and security laws than those that are enforced where the client or the attorney resides. But Moore says those issues are all addressed in service-level agreements with the hosting providers. Then too, he says, the legal-services agreements between client and attorney address the kinds of services to be provided and how they are to be provided. He told me:

You have your own very well-defined portion of the network. Your data is very well defined as your data. Then there are privacy policies from the service provider, as well as terms of service that are very clear and that are specifically oriented to the work that you are trying to do. You've actually got a lot more coverage in privacy policies and the terms of service from almost every cloud vendor out there than you would have ever gotten from hosted e-mail.

That makes sense to me, both as a potential consumer, and as a licensed attorney who has always preferred the paperwork and transactional side of the law to the legwork and physicality (limited though it may be) associated with litigation. I like the idea of Web-based legal services -- to a certain point.


This week we published the second half of my conversation with Moore, in which he moved beyond discussing Web-based legal services to discussing a Web-based judicial system. Virtual courtrooms and the whole nine yards. Removing the physical element completely. Well, at least for certain types of cases. For instance, he said:

[S]mall claims and traffic violations are a lot of what clogs up the court system. I mean, right now you use an e-file system so that you don't have to walk the documents (complaints and the like) in or fax them over to the clerk. Once they're in, the lawyers still have to go down to the courthouse. They still have to do depositions in person and that sort of thing. Where this really gets exciting and gets interesting quickly is when you eliminate the physical friction, the physical barriers.

He points to Australian courts as examples, noting that certain types of civil cases in Australia are "handled from start to finish" based on written evidence, with no physical presence necessary. Moore explains:

I think, for civil stuff, the parties agree they're going to submit their evidence electronically, the fact finder/decision-maker will make a decision based on what's in front of him, and then the parties will be bound by that decision. I see a big move in that direction, and Australia is the first to start going down that road.

I like the idea in theory -- at least for civil cases that can actually be decided based on written evidence alone. But even putting aside for the moment the effects of the inevitable technical glitches, I'm wondering just how much of the country's litigation could be resolved in that way? And if enough of it could, would the possibility of an "easier" or "quicker" process encourage more people to file lawsuits, thus increasing the backlog rather than chipping away at it? Would it not also necessitate new evidence rules and new rules of process just for these situations?


Perhaps most interesting, though, is how quickly a move in this direction would mean that those who pursued legal careers because they love the challenge of the adversarial process and dealing with actual people would look for other ways to earn a living. I don't claim to know the answers or even dare to think I'm asking all the pertinent questions. But it is certainly food for thought.

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