How long does it take to get a law degree? To know the ins and outs of your legal system well enough to draw up your own contracts, to be your own corporate lawyer, not having to rely on someone else’s expertise which costs you hundreds of euros an hour? Eight years, seven? About as long as becoming a doctor? Maybe not, maybe all you need is a computer. Maybe all you need is to fire up a laptop to be your own corporate lawyer.
Have you, as a young and ambitious entrepreneur, ever heard that voice in your head saying, ‘you can’t pay for all this, it will ruin you’? Or have you, as a skilled freelancer feared that the steps you need to take before you can contract out your work make the endeavour unrealistic to begin with? I believe one of the main reasons for these hurdles are legal requirements, more specifically the price of legal services. Take an employment contract for example, you will need a lawyer to draw it up, a lawyer who costs you more than a hundred euros an hour. Who is going to pay for that? Conventional legal services are too expensive. For a legal professional to be allowed to do her job takes long years of studying and requires stringent qualifications. This makes the market for legal services very restricted, driving up costs to prices which start-ups, freelancers or small businesses either cannot or don’t want to afford. At the same time, lawyers can be fed up with drafting the same standard contracts over and over again. Most of the terms in a contract are standardised and filling in the few individualised sections probably does not give legal professionals much sense of purpose. Drafting the same contracts day in day out is not for everyone. Who still wants to do the same job every day of every year for all their lives, especially in our generation. A solution could be interdisciplinary. The problems for both the freelancers, start-ups and small businesses, as well as for traditional legal professionals by mixing law with another discipline. This discipline could be, and has in many ways already been, technology.
A computer can do the job of a contract lawyer at a much lower rate. Subscribing to a legal service such as VraagHugo for example, costs 150euros for a year, probably the same amount of money a lawyer would have cost for just an hour of work. With the cheaper price however, comes less professionalism. One might not want to trust a computer with a legal question. A potential employee might be reluctant to sign a document printed from the internet. An employer might be reluctant to rely on that same document. Freelancers might not feel reinsured and legitimised by it. The lack of professionalism could put the parties off. Conventional legal practice inspires confidence, consistency, and trust. As an individual trying to start a business, you certainly don’t want to run into legal trouble straight away, you don’t want to have to go to court over trivial matters. That would drive you right back into the arms of an expensive qualified lawyer. Could a computer maybe also instil the necessary confidence into people, to trust it with their legal decisions, with their business?
Partnerships are a crucial factor in this. VraagHugo for example collaborates with Deloitte and DFT Kennis. Those names instil confidence. You would rather rely on them than a website, right? Especially if you can get their expertise at the price of the web-service the answer will certainly be affirmative. But how can the big company benefit from this partnership? VraagHugo allows you to do the bulk of your standard legal work yourself. The documents you need to start working as a freelancer, or employment contracts to hire your first employee are all available. You won’t need an expensive professional to provide these for you. Thereby, it allows the professionals at the big companies to be more efficient, to focus more resources on work that is still too complex for you and your computer. Furthermore, it allows you to sit back in confidence, knowing that these big names were part of making the legal documents you need available to you.
Partnerships with firms who employ professionals from many fields can also allow company’s like VraagHugo to grow into different sectors. This can ideally prevent you from having to run to an expensive professional once you or your start-up has any problem other than requiring a basic contract, like auditing or tax services. In time, with the help of established names in those sectors, your computer might also be the only resource you need. Facilitating such growth, these partnerships also announce to the legal and other professions that technology is the future, and that traditional lawyers, auditors, etc. can and should work together with people skilled in technology to provide smarter, sustainable and efficient services for the future.
For now, a lack of awareness might be the biggest struggle. Do young entrepreneurs know about the alternative services like VraagHugo, do small businesses and freelancers? I did not, most people I know who study law or business did not know about these developments either. The lack of awareness about these new ways of doing business, or doing law might be the result of too little interdisciplinary education, too little contact between students and professionals from law, business and technology. So, whether you are a tech person, a law person, or an entrepreneur, let’s embrace the change. Let us not be stuck in a boxy tradition that we don’t belong to. Let’s mix what hasn’t been and be the future.