Innovation in Legal practice
The Victorian Legal Services Board + Commissioner (VLSBC) sees the value in innovation. As the regulator, encourage lawyers to look for new ways to streamline and improve their practice. We also wish to encourage the development of legal services that are more accessible to a greater range of people in the community.
Fear of the regulator’s disapproval is sometimes cited as a reason why lawyers are reluctant to innovate and change the way they provide legal services. We seek to overcome this perceived barrier by providing an avenue for conversation with innovators in legal services and information provision.
Innovation and the Uniform Law
The Legal Profession Uniform Law (Vic) 2014 (“Uniform Law”) allows considerable flexibility for lawyers to step outside the usual models of practice, and permits exemptions or conditions on how the rules and regulations apply in a limited number of areas. By working together, we can not only assist you as you develop service models and innovations that comply with the law, but we can also gather insights to help us understand whether any reviews or amendments to the Uniform Law are needed in order to help the profession develop a better range of services.
As a modern regulator, we need to regulate in a way that helps maintain the health and effectiveness of the profession, while still dealing with complaints and conduct that falls outside the acceptable boundaries. Our main focus is on whether consumers experience benefit or harm from a particular model of service rather than taking an overly technical approach to compliance. We also want the profession to have enough flexibility to modify how legal services are done, so that it can continue to serve the community in the best way possible.
The innovation Inbox
How does it work? If you have a new idea, you can contact us through our email address email@example.com. We then have a conversation about the proposed service model or idea, discuss any concerns we might have and talk through the development of your proposal.
For example, some people have approached us about the use of chatbots and the development of online legal information and self-help tools. We can discuss our general views about your proposal given the regulatory provisions, and help you make connections to find resources. We also involve the professional liability insurer, the LPLC where appropriate, and we can obtain other expert views in assessing your service. We are also able to give you a Regulatory Guidance letter from the Commissioner which sets out our views.
Regulatory Guidance letter
A regulatory guidance letter expresses our view on how the rules of Ethics and the Uniform Law would apply to a particular model of practice or idea. The provision of legal service is always subject to the duties owed to clients, the Court and the administration of justice, and a Regulatory Guidance letter is not a waiver of any provision of the Uniform Law or Rules (unless an exemption is specifically granted). It is also not a private ruling binding on the Commissioner.
What kinds of ideas are considered?
So far, applicants have contacted us about online dispute resolution platforms, use of chatbots, different pricing and remuneration models, managing possible conflicts through information barriers and online self-help platforms. In the coming months, we will share more stories and general guidance as they are developed.
Innovation case study
The Fitzroy Community Legal Centre contacted us through the Innovation Inbox. They had recently merged with another legal centre, and wanted to ensure they could perform an increased number of one-off community advice sessions.
Lawyers are subject to strict rules to ensure that confidential information from one client doesn’t spread to another client who might be able to make use of that information against the first client. This rule has presented some significant difficulties to organisations like community legal centres because of the volume of demand for their services.
The merger with the second centre gave the management group an opportunity to think differently about how to handle that problem through putting in place Information Barriers that would prevent inappropriate access to another person’s information. We worked with the CLC as they designed their new system and provided a statement of regulatory guidance in relation to the final policy.
“The VLSBC remained a constructive and supportive resource throughout the merger of Darebin Community Legal Centre and Fitzroy Legal Service. The fact that they were willing to field numerous questions and review draft policies was an invaluable contribution. The VLSB+C’s support of our Information Barrier policy provided us with confidence that we had successfully struck the difficult balance of complying with our legal and professional obligations and enabling meaningful and accessible legal assistance to as many people as possible within the constraints of our working environment, staff capacity and resources.”
Jennifer Black, Principal Lawyer, Fitzroy Community Legal Service
Contact us with your ideas
If you have an idea for a new way of doing business that benefits your clients, please contact us, we’d love to hear from you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Law Institute Journal Article: https://www.liv.asn.au/Staying-Informed/LIJ/LIJ/April-2020/Innovation--What%E2%80%99s-holding-us-back
Legal Forecast On Speaker: https://www.thelegalforecast.com/tlf-on-speaker
Reimagining Justice podcast: https://www.andreaperrypetersen.com.au/regulation-innovation-technology-ethics-lawyers-consumers/
Centre for Legal Innovation panel discussion: https://www.cli.collaw.com/clic/2020/07/15/reinvent-legal-business-series-beyond-the-legal-innovation-hype-there-is
Centre for Legal Innovation podcast: https://www.cli.collaw.com/podcast/2019/09/09/episode-4-the-new-emerging-role-of-legal-industry-regulation-and-regulators