If you attend a wedding this summer, spare a thought for the most pitied but ultimately redundant person at the ceremony: the usher.
Not liked/trusted enough to be best man/woman, they are reduced to menial jobs simply to give them something to do: guiding people to their seats, handing out confetti, herding relatives into photos. These are tasks anyone could carry out, but the groom must include his second-rate friends somehow, so he keeps them busy in any way he can.
Civil litigation solicitors may soon find themselves in the usher role, desperate to pick up any humble task and filling in when required. Ultimately, just like the usher, they may come to realise the whole shebang can happen just as well without them.
Lord Justice Briggs has almost finished his report on civil courts, with emphasis inevitably on the online court.
Briggs’ interim report appeared to leave out lawyers altogether from the Susskind-inspired Brave New World, but the thinking has changed slightly.
Now lawyers have the role of gatekeeper for cases and adviser for when they come to (virtual) court. They will be expected to assess people’s claims and urge them to either proceed or drop out altogether.
They are then expected to sit idly while the litigant travels through the conciliation zone, only to pick up the baton on the off chance the client fancies their chances before a judge.
Like the groom, it’s nice that Briggs is trying to keep everybody happy but his vision presents some real challenges for qualified lawyers.
Just how much are they going to charge for the initial ‘you might have a case’ consultation? Client checks take up a good chunk of time themselves, so it will have to pay enough to cover that.
Presumably, the online court is designed to increase the number of people able to seek legal redress. Would these people, hitherto put off by legal fees, want to pay money upfront just to hear if they have a case? Plenty of firms already offer an initial consultation for free – could the fee-charging pre-triage mean fewer people actually access justice?
And is the presumption that lawyers will offer some initial advice and then wave their clients off into the sunset, leaving a card in case their claim ever comes before a judge? Clients will, in effect, then be abandoned to the algorithm of the online court?
It seems unrealistic to think there won’t be some lawyers who, shall we say, stress the merits of taking claims forward – particularly given that option opens their only other revenue stream down the line.
Would that then be a regulatory issue? Will we see the Solicitors Regulation Authority prosecuting firms for leaning too much on their clients?
It’s very difficult to see how trained and qualified solicitors will actually turn any profit in Briggs’ vision of the future.
It’s nice to be included in the process, but if it’s nothing more than a token gesture you might as well not bother. If there are no real jobs for your usher to do, why have them at all?