There’s an old saying that people don’t buy drills, they buy holes. The same idea applies in law. Those with legal questions don’t want information, they want solutions. Many sites offer useful legal information but, by their nature, such sites are limited. Users must search one or more sites, review the list of titles or abstracts returned, identify the promising ones, click through to read the full text, determine if the text is indeed relevant and, if it is, translate the information into a solution. This is like building a drill from a kit to make holes.
Interactive online legal advisors offer answers and customized documents, which eliminates the search, review and interpretation process. Instead, users answer a set of customized inquiries that elicit facts and apply reasoning embedded in software to derive an answer or create a document.
Building interactive advisors takes more time than just writing a memo or article, so the economics are unclear. The happy news, though, is that the interactive systems cannot answer every question, in many instances, they serve only as intelligent intake tools. Users answer questions (with the option to review background information at any point) and the system sends an intake report to a lawyer. Gone are the multiple phone calls or e-mail messages stretching over days and weeks.
Few would have predicted the advent of free, in-depth, high-quality legal information on the Web. Let that be a lesson in the limits of linear thinking. Today, demand for cheaper and faster legal solutions abounds and the technology to create “answer machines” is at hand. The only question is how the market responds to create a new wave of applications that we can hardly imagine yet.