You have an idea – maybe already implemented – for an interactive software application that helps someone accomplish a legal task. You’d like to make it available to others. Which platform should be used for delivery? What’s the best way to deliver the application to the target market?
Maybe you’re a public-interest-oriented sort who wants to help folks who can’t afford lawyers deal with legal issues. Or maybe you’re an entrepreneurial associate at a firm that wants to open up a side income stream by productizing some of your expertise. What tools should you use?
One of the first decisions that you must make, is to determine which platform will be used for the development and delivery of your legal product.
A Worksheet for Choosing among Platforms
The Exponential Legal Essentials course provides a ‘launch lifecycle’ roadmap for conceiving, designing, building, and delivering a legal service software product. I’m part of the faculty for that, but I still recommend it! Lots of important guidance on the overall process – how to de-risk things, etc.
One of the many choices creators face along the way is which tool(s) to use for implementing and delivering their ideas. There’s a startling number of alternatives, and many considerations need to be taken into account.
Here’s a worksheet we’ve made available as part of that course, for would-be productizers to organize their decisions as to which platform makes the most sense for delivering their product to customers:
|Name of platform|
|Other contact info|
|Primary function – development, delivery, both?|
Pricing and other commercial terms
(What does this all cost? How long are you locked in?)
(Can you move your application to another platform? How would that work?)
|Apparent advantages over alternatives|
|Apparent disadvantages over alternatives|
|Who else is using this platform? Have you talked with them? Are there published reviews?|
|Notes on conversations with the platform provider|
A Deeper Dive into Delivery Features
Many of your concerns will be around the features of the application framework. What can it do? Interactive questioning, document generation, expert analysis? How does it do it? What’s the user experience like? What’s the authoring experience like? Etc.
This article focuses on the terms and features around the actual delivery of a product. Once you have something built, how can it be served to customers or other users? Before spending a lot of time building something, you’ll want to be reasonably confident it can be delivered in a way that serves you and your users well.
There are some high-level considerations. One is – how widely do you want to distribute your product? Maybe just to yourself, across different devices or locations. Or to colleagues. Or to clients. Or to a broader group of potential users. What’s the ‘target market’?
Other top questions are – Do you want to make your application available for free, or charge something for it? Do you want users to be able to save their responses to questions and resume their sessions at a later time? Getting paid and letting users securely save sessions are some of the trickier things to arrange.
Depending on your answers, you may be best served by serving your application from your own website. Or by creating a special purpose one on a custom basis. Either of those strategies could limit your features or impose substantial costs. How about using some kind of hosting service?
Most of the hosting services just support one form of content. So one critical factor is the ‘flavor’ of your content. (That is, what system it was built in.)
Dozens of other considerations might be important. New ones keep suggesting themselves. E.g., can you block users from particular states, like Florida, which has a particularly regressive view of what constitutes the unauthorized practice of law? See https://www.abajournal.com/news/article/florida-supreme-court-rules-ticket-fighting-startup-was-engaged-in-unauthorized-law-practice.
Think about what you would ideally want in a delivery environment. Here’s a framework for comparing the options:
Legal service product delivery options
|Platform / Method|
|Can users save and resume? Limits on duration or number?|
Can users log in from Gmail or Facebook?
How frictionless can the process be made?
|Is anonymous use allowed?|
Pricing and related commercial terms
(What does this all cost? How long are you locked in?)
|Is the user data secure?|
|Are applications secure from unauthorized copying?|
|Are usage reports available?|
|Can you customize the look & feel? The UX more generally?|
|What, if any, user support is available?|
|Payment processing arrangements?|
|Example applications provided?|
|Can you move your application to another platform? How would that work?|
|Who is using this platform?|
|Any published reviews?|
I’ve started to compile data about some of the options. Here’s a partial summary of what I have so far:
|Description||A2J stands for Access To Justice. This website hosts A2J Guided
Interviews® that are interactive programs that help
self-represented litigants (SRLs)
fill out a legal form
or document or complete a process.
Operated by the Center for Computer-Aided Legal Instruction.
|Basic economics||Free for nonprofit use|
|Description||“Build your own web portals where others can use your apps
and their data, all according to strict permissions set by you. “
|Basic economics||Free for ‘open’ apps (those posted to a publicly accessible marketplace)
$40/month for up to 2 non-public apps. Other options are available.
Works out to about $1,080.00 a year for 10 applications.
|Description||“BRYTER is the no-code service automation platform
that enables business experts to build digital applications.”
“Turn any service into a self-service application.
Collect information, process through your business reasoning
and define deliverables.
From idea to prototype in minutes, not months.”
|Basic economics||No readily available pricing info on their website. May be custom.
Free access for academic institutions, associations, NGOs,
|Description||“DirectLaw is a secure, cloud-based solution that enables the delivery of
Online Legal Services”. Subscription includes libraries of
forms and the Rapidocs document automation solution.
|Basic economics||Minimum $49/month (solo) + $50 per additional attorney/month
|Description||“Document automation software to cut 90% of drafting time.
Turn your templates into workflows that populate client
data into your forms.
Easy to create. Easy to automate. Easy to generate.”
|Basic economics||Starts at $83/month
|Description||“HotDocs document automation software is a top choice
among the world’s largest publishers of legal documents and forms.
HotDocs helps publishers automate their workflow
and process a wide variety
of complex documents
from estate planning documents to standard banking documents.”
|Basic economics||~$150/month for up to five named users
Publishing arrangements on a custom basis
|Description||“HotDocs Market is a cloud-based service designed for legal professionals
who require an intelligent and comprehensive solution
for document assembly.
HotDocs Market is the premier source for accurate, cost-efficient,
user-friendly forms crafted by commercial legal publishers,
state bar associations, and subject matter experts.”
|Basic economics||Publishers have to share about 30% of revenues with AbacusNext
End users can pay by use or subscription
|Description||“Josef is a no-code software platform that empowers lawyers
and legal professionals to automate legal tasks,
including lawyer-client interactions,
sending emails, generating legal documents,
and providing legal guidance and advice.”
|Basic economics||About $4,800.00 a year for five applications|
|Description||“LawHelp Interactive is a website that helps you
fill out legal documents for free.
It’s simple: we ask you questions and use your answers to complete
the documents you need,
no lawyer necessary.
And if you are a lawyer, we have tools for you too.
Find and prepare forms, edit client responses
and manage case files, all in one place.”
|Basic economics||Currently free for both application creators and end-users
Limited to nonprofit legal services providers and participating courts
We have more affordable and powerful tools than ever for delivering legal service products. Choosing the right one for your project may be critical to its success.
The points here are just suggestive. I welcome input from vendors and users. What platforms would you add? What other considerations would you suggest?
Marc Lauritsen is the founder and president of Capstone Practice Systems, Inc., and Exponential Legal, an educational resource on how to productize legal services. He has worked in legal technology since 1984. He practiced law and supervised in legal services programs, and then served as an instructor, director of clinical programs, and a senior research associate at Harvard Law School. Marc has two undergraduate degrees from MIT and a law degree from Harvard.
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