An app that offers users the full range of consumer legal advice and support for up to £24 a month is being rolled out after a pilot saw 70% of users renew their subscription.
The legal advice behind LegalDefence comes from Slater & Gordon (S&G), supported by an artificial intelligence-based chatbot called Gordon. It is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
As first reported on Legal Futures last year, it was initially piloted in Plymouth, and was subsequently widened out to Norwich and Liverpool.
Users of the app have access to paralegals at S&G’s legal advice team in Manchester, which resolves 70% of cases with just legal advice or an initial letter; the other 30% of cases are escalated for more detailed advice, for which users receive a 25% discount on S&G’s “standard billing rate”.
LegalDefence, created by US company LegalShield, is formally going national today, along with an ‘associate’ programme targeted at what managing director Mike Roberts called “independent entrepreneurs”, who are incentivised to sell membership to their contacts in return for a share of the price.
A soft launch has seen “more than 500” sign up in the past month.
Partnering with organisations to offer the app as a benefit to employees or members is on the cards in the future, as is an equivalent advice service for small businesses.
The subscription is £19 if bought through an associate or £24 if bought directly through LegalShield’s website. Slater & Gordon receives a third of each subscription, which is for an initial six months and then cancellable at any time thereafter.
Mr Roberts said the US experience was a 90% renewal rate and that subscribers stayed on average for five years.
The 70% who renewed during the pilot phase was a “viable” level, he said, but he admitted frankly that it would take time for the company to turn a profit.
LegalShield – for which this is a first overseas foray – saw it as “an investment worth making”, Mr Roberts explained. “We have the financial support required when entering a marketplace in a serious way.”
It has already spent “hundreds of thousands” on online marketing and some limited TV and radio advertising too.
A subscription covers the member’s spouse/partner, dependent children under the age of 16 and children in full-time education up to the age of 23 living at the same residence, along with children with disabilities of any age living at home.
There are no limits to how often the service can be used and indeed Mr Roberts said members were encouraged to do so often.
The most common areas of law during the pilot were conveyancing, wills, employment and neighbour disputes. A new feature allows members to send a photo of a letter about a motoring offence through the app for advice on what to do.
In the event of a dispute, S&G writes an initial letter or makes a call on the member’s behalf to try and resolve it – which Mr Roberts said often worked – before moving onto a retainer. LegalShield does not receive a cut of any legal fees that S&G makes.
Members can also access a suite of legal documents to personalise and download, while the chatbot seeks to deal with common problems. They receive 25% discounts off conveyancing and wills as well.
Research commissioned by LegalDefence last year showed that nearly seven people in 10 had recently experienced a situation that could require legal support, but less than half of them actually took legal advice. In addition, 75% said they would consider a solicitor if the service was affordable.
New research – a survey of 2,489 UK workers by Opinium – said a third of them who experienced a legal situation in the last two years did not get professional help, while 9% of them had to take time off work to deal with it.
Mr Roberts said the service aimed to be “affordable, accessible and accountable” – as members unhappy with S&G could complain to LegalShield as well as the firm itself.
“The number one challenge is for people to realise that law isn’t just there for the rich or situations where they normally need it, but that law happens in everyday life.”
Martyn Beauchamp, S&G’s chief customer officer, added: “Innovating through technology and progressive partnerships is a key part of our strategy to transform the way UK customers use legal services.
“Our partnership with LegalShield increases access to justice at a fair price and means we can offer UK customers an unrivalled level of choice and convenience – all from the palm of their hand.”