Legal Cheek talks tech with former Addleshaw Goddard lawyer James Martin, whose new start-up could revolutionise the way lawyers give legal advice
The broken criminal justice system is rarely out of the headlines.
Brutal legal aid cuts, overworked and underpaid lawyers, a conveyer belt of repeat offenders: it’s a system crumbling under the weight of itself.
With this criminal law doom and gloom dominating the mainstream media, it’s sometimes easy to forget that things aren’t so hunky dory over in the civil courts either.
Disproportionate costs, inexcusable delays, and complex civil procedure rules are turning people off pursuing civil justice.
James Martin knows; he’s seen it.
A former Addleshaw Goddard trainee, Martin (pictured below) now teaches at BPP Law School and runs the commercial dispute resolution department at a firm up in Harrogate.
While the University of St Andrews’ grad has an impressive case history to his name (he made it to the Supreme Court once and was involved in a case against footballer Wayne Rooney) he has also dealt with lots of low-level disputes.
For him, this is where the problems really lie. This is because — he told Legal Cheek — it’s becoming “increasingly difficult” for litigants to bring low value claims. He continued:
Clients of mine were struggling to see how they could benefit from the civil law system as it is, and I was struggling to advise them otherwise.
Lawyers, he explained, are often stuck between a rock and a hard place. They know the odds are stacked against their client but, in the end, law is a profit-making business, and to make money lawyers need clients.
Rather than accept this, Martin decided to do something about it; something that would shake up the failing civil justice system and keep clients’ best interests at heart.
In comes ClaimItOnline, the latest tech start-up to grace the industry. And we think this one could be a game-changer.
Here’s how it works.
You think you have a civil law claim. You go online, enter your details, attach documents that could be used as evidence, and hit send.
The information whizzes through the ClaimItOnline system and is passed on to a solicitor or a junior barrister, who takes a look over the claim and offers the client a fixed fee for his or her advice. This fee will be between £175-£1,799 and is calculated based on the value and complexity of the claim.
The lawyer then produces a report for the client, which spells out the relevant law, the strengths and weaknesses of the claim, and all the options available to them. The client will then have all the information needed to make an informed decision about the next steps.
When compared to standard solicitors’ fees, ClaimItOnline is a much cheaper alternative. But how can it be cost-effective for solicitors to work at such a reduced rate?
When we put this to Martin, he explained the automated nature of the site cuts out a lot of the conventional law firm legwork. There’s no passing the client around between staff at the beginning stages, plus payment of the fixed fee is processed online so no one has to faff about with invoices.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that ClaimItOnline deals exclusively with pre-action advice, so if the client decides to opt for litigation then the lawyer can pitch for the work and charge his or her own rates.
It makes sense, and Martin was pleased to report ClaimItOnline’s first week is going well. A number of lawyers have shown an interest in the model, and — with a big internet marketing campaign scheduled to start on Monday — he’s hopeful the site will pick up momentum and more firms will become involved.
While it’s still early days, it looks like the website could be a real threat to the traditional model of giving legal advice.
But haven’t we heard this all before? There are new, techy ideas popping up here, there and everywhere, all which promise to ‘revolutionise’ and ‘shake up’ legal practice. Remember when Joshua Browder, the brains behind the Robot Lawyer, said lawyers should be “very scared” of this new technology? Are we really on the verge of a tech revolution?
Yes, according to Martin. And he thinks this is a good thing:
The legal system is changing. No matter how much lawyers resist it, there is going to be an online court in the future. You might as well accept these technological advances and work with the civil justice system to make it as good as it can be.