Solicitor develops online questionnaire for client meetings

Topics: Civil justice,Family and children,Legal aid and access to justice

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  • Alan Larkin

A family lawyer has developed an online tool that has ‘fundamentally changed’ the nature of initial client meetings, amid a perception that technology is being used to push lawyers out of the justice system.

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Alan Larkin (pictured), director of Brighton-based Family Law Partners, has developed Siaro, which he describes as an ‘online conditional logic questionnaire’.

When a potential client calls the firm, they are asked to fill in the questionnaire. The form has 1,000 questions but Larkin says a client will answer only about 100. For instance, several questions are eliminated if the client does not have children.

Larkin says the questionnaire has ‘fundamentally changed the nature of our first consultation’ because solicitors can ‘engage with the clients straight away and answer the broader questions’.

The firm has used the tool for nearly 200 divorce and civil partnership cases.

Larkin said the first 180 client submissions had ‘stripped out’ £32,000 of ‘soft’ time.

He is now adapting the tool, which will be commercially available, to include data visualisation.

Larkin said there was a ‘prevailing motif at the moment’ that lawyers ‘are a problem and expensive and not engaged enough with the general public’, using technology ‘to push them out of the system’.

Examples include Lord Justice Briggs’ landmark review of civil justice, in which Briggs has reported that there is a ‘clear and pressing need’ to create an online court for claims up to £25,000.

‘That is fundamentally wrong,’ Larkin said. ‘My message is we have got to innovate. I’m giving a practical example of how we can do it.’

Readers' comments (13)

  • We introduced this at our firm for Conveyancing over a decade ago !

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  • Pretty sure we had these many many years ago.

    But remember a precedent is a good slave but bad master...

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  • Yes. I had these circa 1996. I think you needed them to take your 30 pieces of silver through franchising in actual fact .............

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  • I suspect this is a lot more 'intelligent' than some of the simple thigns I've seen in the past, although havign 1000+ decision trees in a questionnaire program will make (I suspect) some of the future admin of the program challenging.

    However, a laudable effort and when it is ready to come to the market we'll be happy to look at it.

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  • An important attempt to bridge the gaps between regulatory burden, risk, legal knowledge and advancing technology for the benefit of enhanced client and lawyer user experiences.

    Great to see it being developed by a solicitor and not by Google or by Apple. Good luck to Alan.

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  • Who says lawyers have no sense of humour? Take a look at the name of the software spelt backwards. Well, it made me giggle.

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  • Ha ha above!!!

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  • Well, I had a bet with my software developers that when Siaro was wheeled out into the light, it would get a quick trashing on the comments pages of The Gazette. I’ll collect my money tonight.

    I only do one thing: family law. I hope after 20 years I do it well. I hope after 5 years of building Siaro and its platform, that it will make a modest contribution to keeping me and other family law solicitors firmly in the game despite the carpetbaggers and venture capitalists queuing up to take our place in a ‘market’ we used to have to ourselves. As it is, it appears to me that much of the debate around digital pathways and online courts too easily assumes that lawyers will be engineered out of those processes.

    I freely confess to loving technology and the opportunities it offers to help us and our clients. I also freely confess to being very ‘traditional’ in other aspects of my thinking: I believe we have a ‘profession’ and that we assist ‘clients’ and not ‘consumers’.

    Siaro is intended to allow those clients who need family law advice to more easily access the expertise we possess, in some abundance, in our profession. It is not simply an online questionnaire; it is very much more than that. I thank Joe Reevy for suspending judgement until he has had the opportunity to run the rule over it. And to Alex Cook for getting the point. All will be revealed at the Law Society conference on 17 March. I’m very happy to take a kicking, if anyone still thinks it is merited, after that point.

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  • Sorry Mr Larkin, but I'm with Formerly Inpractice. It's all been done before. You're one hack away from a claim and in any event it will be absolete when the courts bypass lawyers. Don't tell me you'll be telling us "AI" is the future next! We are and will remain a people business. And what is "soft time" and how do you quantify it?

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  • Technology reduces errors rather than risks creating more and it saves an unbelievable amount of time. That time is then used more profitably to analyse information and ensure each case is managed well. People don't mind paying for expertise. But none of us expect to pay for cumbersome outdated processes anymore. We expect our insurance companies to invest in the technology to quote over the phone. We expect even small retailers to make sure our purchases will arrive the next day. If they can't we look elsewhere. And that is what is happening in family law. Unregulated, unprofessional services are taking the work based just on promises to be quicker, more efficient and cheaper. And they are. And whether you like it or not the clients aren't sticking with the traditional approach. These unregulated companies don't even have qualified staff but people are still using them in their thousands. So we have to look at why that is (or give up). Embracing technology will make us efficient and competitive on price and frankly then we can get on with delivering the expertise we should be rightfully proud of. Conveyancers have been using technology for many years but that is only because they invested in it. And it is time for family law to do the same. So well done Alan.

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