Western Cape Business News

Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  02 Feb 2011

THE LAW: Lawyer In Your Laptop


Recent Western Cape Business News

LawUnlocked has been launched in Cape Town to provide a legal service, delivered via the website, that offers small business owners and consumers quality, custom-drafted legal contracts for between 3-5% of the charges of traditional law firms.

All the contracts are specifically crafted for use in South Africa. Customising each contract to the client's particular situation, LawUnlocked delivers the highest standards of professional expertise, at incredibly cost-effective rates.

"Small enterprises and individuals often resort to self-help when it comes to legal contracts because of the high cost of professional legal advice. The result is that they can incur huge costs and the trauma of litigation to remedy a situation caused by defective or unenforceable contracts," says Advocate Richard van Helden, who co-founded LawUnlocked with database technology specialist, Pancho Harding. "Automating some of the more common areas of contract law, LawUnlocked has taken the cost and laborious process out of repetitive legal drafting, empowering South Africans to be part of their own legal solutions."

LawUnlocked enables clients to instantly build and develop highly customisable legal agreements through an interactive web-based process. It is unique in South Africa in that it allows clients to step through a 15-minute online interview to determine their particular circumstances. The contract is then customised based on the information received, giving clients the very best of the legal profession at a fraction of the cost. The service is the result of a four-year collaboration between lawyers of the highest caliber and a team of IT specialists, who developed LawUnlocked's intelligent legal services engine.

Through a process of peer review and research, LawUnlocked has put together a full range of the most common legal documents and every potential variation of those agreements, which can run into many thousands. Clients can choose from a growing list of over 20 core business and personal contracts, which ranges from association agreements and property leases to domestic worker employment contracts and wills.

Van Helden explains that when a lawyer drafts most legal agreements, 70-80% of the content is drawn from a range of standard contract terms. The remaining 20-30% is dependent on the specifics of a client's circumstances.
LawUnlocked has made a deep investment into working out how to synthesize a legally valid contract. The system first builds a basic structure by making a client-appropriate selection of common contract terms and then uses an online interview and intelligent database system to extract from the specifics of a client's situation the remaining parts of the contract. As an example, the system asks up to 11 basic questions to understand whether a loan agreement has to comply with the National Credit Act, and what terms it would need to include.

As a service that is not affiliated to any legal firm, LawUnlocked has no interest in selling consulting time. Instead, its professional legal team has integrated free online support and legal assistance into every interview offered to its clients. In the rare instances in which clients require very unusual or complex contractual terms not covered by LawUnlocked¹s range of contracts, LawUnlocked is still able to deliver exceptional value by drafting a contract that covers all of the nuts and bolts of the agreement.

The client then only needs to pay a lawyer to draft the peculiar terms they require. The attorney would usually do this in the form of a one-page addendum, at a hugely reduced cost to the client.

"It's very important that South Africans use quality legal contracts. A number of sites can provide template documents, but these are often not legally effective as the contracts are incomplete or take no account of the specific circumstances of the client. This exposes clients to unacceptable degrees of risk and often ends in unnecessary litigation. It was this concern that motivated us to develop the LawUnlocked service," says van Helden. In the words of one of LawUnlocked's recent customers: "It's a bit like having a lawyer in your laptop."

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