Alternative ways of delivering legal services continue to grow with the launch of two web-based, fixed-fee Q&A services, and what is claimed to be the first Twitter “law firm”.
The two websites – www.expert-answers.co.uk and www.questiontheexpert.com – both use panels of qualified lawyers to answer questions put by users, while @thelegaloracle is the brainchild of the founder of personal injury referral network Loyalty Law.
Lawyers apply to be on the panels. Both websites state in their terms and conditions that no client relationship is created and the answers are for information purposes only and are not a substitute for specific professional advice.
QuestiontheExpert seeks to exclude liability to the extent it is legally able to, and in any case limits it to the amount paid for the advice. Expert Answers also limits its liability to the amount paid.
QuestiontheExpert, which says it has had 1,000 customers so far, charges users between £9 and £31 to pose a question depending on the service level they require, of which the lawyer gets half. Steve Thomas from the site said: “The legal market is facing an Internet revolution. It is time for the customer and not the lawyer to take control. QuestiontheExpert will change people’s entire experience of accessing legal services, making it much easier and more enjoyable. By providing a recognisable and trusted brand name, we will end the stressful task of going to a solicitor and provide a recognised Internet alternative that is accessible from your own computer and home”.
Expert Answers has been launched by solicitor James Mather and computer specialist Lloyd Barrett. Here the person who poses the question also sets the price they are willing to pay, or can afford to pay. Prices set so far have ranged from £10 up to around £50.
Mr Mather said Expert Answers bridges the gap between those who are eligible for legal aid and those who can afford to pay high street prices for legal advice. “We ask our users to make a contribution towards their legal advice. This can range from £10 to whatever the questioner feels appropriate. Before committing to costly litigation you can check out your chances of success by asking one of our legal experts for advice: what are the principles I can rely on and will I be successful?”
The Twitter “law firm” offers free legal advice in 140 characters on questions that have been tweeted. It has been set up by well-known legal marketing specialist Nick Jervis, a former legal executive and solicitor.
He said: “Every year, thousands of people in the UK lose out on millions of pounds because the prospect of talking to a lawyer scares them. It occurred to me that if you could make the legal profession more accessible through Twitter, then this could make a huge difference and open the legal world up to a new generation.”
The Twitter feed will be manned by Loyalty Law solicitors but Mr Jervis said the firm was not just a front for generating more work for his panel – for one thing, Loyalty Law is limited to personal injury, while 80% of tweets see no follow-up, which would not make it a cost-effective marketing tool.
“This service is aimed at providing advice and guidance and ultimately saving people a lot of time and money if they do not have a strong case,” he said. “These are generally straightforward questions that people don’t ask if they cannot find an easy way to get an answer.”
There are already other Q&A style websites, such as barrister-run www.lawyers4u.org , while the likes of Legal Futures Associate Epoq  provides law firms and financial institutions with the capacity to offer online document assembly.