This post is part of our Future of Law series which interviews the leading founders and executives who are on the front lines of the industry to get a better understanding of what problems the industry is facing, what trends are taking place, and what the future looks like.
1. What’s the history of Farewill? Where and how did you begin?
DG: While studying, I spent some time working as a designer for Japanese nursing homes. I was struck by the fact that, despite the supposed innovation around death and dying, no-one actually talked about “it”. Death is the grandaddy of elephants room, and yet everyone has to face it. Wouldn’t it be better to do so constructively? I started thinking about how to change the death industry so it worked for the consumer. I came back to the UK and organised 15 funerals in a month, and got a will-writing qualification. Then my co-founder Tom Rogers, who I met at university, and I started building our first product, a digital will-writer. We launched in November 2016.
2. What specific problem does Farewill solve? How do you solve it?
DG: It became increasingly obvious to me that there was a problem to be solved: 97 percent of Brits either don’t have a will, or have one that’s outdated. Three-quarters have no appointed guardian for their children. There’s an enduring view of making a will: it’s complicated, emotionally draining and time-consuming. But by digitising the process (which has remained stubbornly offline), we can give consumers what they expect: an accessible, affordable online service.
3. What’s the future of law?
Prediction #1: Distributed ledger technology will bring further transparency to things like elongated and opaque supply chains. It’ll also enable widespread use of smart contracts. These technologies will react in real-time to breaches in the terms between the parties without having to rely on the parties themselves recognising wrongdoing.
Prediction #2: Legal products and services focused first and foremost on the consumer. Aspects of civil litigation will become automated, enabling far more people to access the court system, should they need to.
Natural language processing – a subset of AI – will help predict which documents will be relevant to a particular case. Plainly, automation of things like advising clients and court advocacy are some way off, but if technology helps close information asymmetries at the point of writing contracts, there may well be less litigation.
Prediction #3: Fewer lawmakers and lawyers. It follows that, if we see the simplification of laws via technology and the automation of legal processes, we will also have fewer people working in these areas. A paper this year from the University of North Carolina School of Law concluded that, if existing new legal technologies were put in place immediately, you would see around a 13 percent drop in lawyers’ hours. It’ll take time for that to actually happen, but the disruption is coming.
4. What are the top 3 technology trends you’re seeing in the legal industry?
Trend #1: Automation – which is part of building for the consumer. This month, VC giant Andreessen Horowitz led a $1.1m (£840,000) seed round backing DoNotPay, a chatbot that aims to make the law free to access. Thankfully, most people will never find themselves needing to litigate, but DoNotPay intends to ensure that, if they do need to go to court, they can do so with the same ammunition as someone with very deep pockets. The firm is currently working on automating divorce and employment rights matters.
Trend #2: Smarter charging. Before they’re put out of business, the incumbents of the legal world will get better and better at measuring their own performance – billing costs, number of clients, work won. Research from the American Bar Association, published at the end of 2016, found that 90 percent of lawyers are using their phones not just to do things like emailing and calendaring but to record billable hours to reduce errors and speed up invoicing. The billable hour is the enemy of progress because it skews incentives. Technology could help us charge in new ways – splicing time, volume of work and ROI, for example. But it can also make us better at doing suboptimal processes.
Trend #3: Smarter working. Cloud-based technology has already allowed for new ways of working in many other industries. The legal world, not known for its alacrity, is now catching up. Increasing numbers of lawyers are now working on a freelance consulting basis. The huge shift will be when barristers start doing the same.
5. Why is the legal industry ripe for disruption?
DG: Because it doesn’t often act in the interests of the consumer, and that’s not good enough anymore. People don’t need – or want – to pay by the hour, and they can access personalised services, and information, online. The era of the lawyer as knowledge holder and gatekeeper is coming to an end. We’ve seen the same in finance: just because you’re operating in an area that consumers find unsavoury, doesn’t mean you should take them for a ride. We have an opportunity to transform the parts of life people find it difficult to deal with by building products and services that make things easier, not harder.
About Dan Garrett
Dan is an engineer by trade, having graduated with a master’s from Oxford University in 2013. He then received a joint master’s in Global Innovation Design from Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art. While there, he built things like “bruise trousers”, which enable people with paralysis to more easily detect potential injuries when playing sports.