I’ll confess that I use WebMD’s symptom checker way more than I should. Sometime it’s to reassure myself that the situation does not warrant a trip to the doctor’s office. I like the user interface – the fact that I don’t have to come up with a multitude of keywords for symptoms, but can just scroll over the photo of the adult or child and pinpoint the source of my worries. I like that from that point I can use a process of elimination and in a few steps have a list of possible ailments with descriptions of them and suggestions for proceeding with care.
When the alternative is spending half a day in a doctor’s waiting room, I will take the online self-diagnosis any day. Sometimes the answers I get just lead to more questions and I actually do end up making that appointment. But, for the most part, this web advisor answers my question, eases my worry, and I wait and see what happens.
Could the legal profession provide something similar for the public? A “WebJD” webadvisor that helps you figure out what area of law your need is in and what the different types of solutions you might need for that issue? There are a ton of legal referral sites and directories, but if I were the client I’d want to run a self-diagnosis before I started shopping online for an attorney.
I’m familiar with the AJ2 Author and how it walks the client through a process of answering questions until the end where the final legal document is completed with instructions. There is a similar concept that Foundrs.com has perfected which has virtual incorporation for business ideas and startups to handle the business planning and create unbundled legal documents with online assistance before taking them in to an attorney’s office. See TechCrunch’s article on FairSoftware. I’m thinking of something different though; a web advisor that’s even simpler and for lower-level legal guidance without even the document assembly component.
If you take a look at sites, such as LawGuru.com, you see that there are a ton of requests for basic questions about what area of law the problem is and what kind of lawyer to go to. I get prospective clients on my virtual law office that ask similar questions. They know there is a problem, but they don’t know what kind of lawyer they need or what process might be involved.
What if they could go to a site where a process of answering twenty questions provides them with list of potential claims or legal proceedings related to their matter? Each of those claims or proceedings would have a basic definition and, of course, the reminder that the person should not self-diagnosis and instead seek the assistance of a licensed attorney. I can’t seem to find anything like this online. If anyone knows of anything, let me know.
It does raise a ton of questions as any good brainstorming should. Would this help our pro se litigants or just result in more folks approaching attorneys with fixed ideas about what they want handled and how? Could something like this be used as a general educational tool for the public or would state bars throw up cries of UPL? Would potential criminals use this tool as a way to figure out what they can and can’t get away with? What if a practice area association within a state bar created a web advisor for their practice area that could be used by prospective clients throughout the state? For example, the family law section of x state bar creates a web advisor based on x state family laws. At the end of the process it not only provides sample diagnosis of the legal matter but also refers the person to a list of attorneys in the state who handle that work.
For years now, larger companies and law firms have built complex and customized web advisors. These tools help them with faster turnaround and client development. But what if we provided this type of useful direction to the public? With the use of cloud computing and an open source distribution model, pulling together this type of solution would not be as daunting or costly as it might once have been.
Coming up with 20 questions would do the trick to narrow down a basic list of legal issues for the online client to go from. (I won’t go off on a tangent here but if you are interested in how this would work, read up on Information Theory, binary search algorithm and Shannon entropy.)
Would it make our own practices more efficient because the clients would come to us with a better idea of what they need or would it only add to the number of folks attempting to help themselves through the legal system? Maybe it’s a question for our neighbors in the medical profession.