We recognise the benefits of digital self-help tools to consumers and lawyers.
These tools can help consumers quickly navigate common and simple legal processes e.g. standardised forms or letters. They can also save lawyers time to focus on more complex legal matters.
When developing a digital self-help tool, it’s important not to cause unnecessary risk to the consumers who use it or the law practice or legal service provider responsible for it.
Here are some things you can do to ensure your tool is safe and consumer-friendly.
Take care not to mislabel your tool
Your tool should not claim to give legal advice. By that, we mean a personalised, definitive application of the law to a user’s individual circumstances, involving the exercise of judgment.
Mislabeling your tool, or over-promising what it can do, may lead to regulatory intervention – especially if it creates a risk of unsafe outcomes for consumers.
Be upfront about the risks
Users must be made aware if there is a risk that the information or solutions your tool provides may not fit their exact circumstances. If they are unsure, you should strongly encourage them to speak to a lawyer.
Research shows that consumers value an opportunity to speak to a lawyer to clarify their situation once they have accessed helpful information online. We recommend making this easy for users, whether by giving them the option to consult your firm directly or including links or references to lawyers who can provide appropriate advice.
Another key consideration is the extent to which the tool can assist consumers to help themselves without causing unacceptable risk. Often this is a question of legal and factual complexity and uncertainty. In general, the risk of a self-help tool leading to error increases the more a correct answer varies according to particular circumstances or relies on informed judgment.
For example, the law about agreements dividing property in a divorce requires each party to get their own independent legal advice – and there are time limitations. While a self-help tool can help parties to organise their information and positions, it should make very clear that an agreement can only be finalised after both have had independent legal advice.
Have a clear and defined scope
The scope of your tool should be well defined and limited, with detailed descriptions of the processes and problems it can and cannot help with. Be very clear about its limitations.
Know the law and how it works in practice
You need to be thoroughly familiar with whichever legal processes your tool is designed to help navigate. A qualified and experienced lawyer should ensure it reflects an accurate understanding of the relevant law and how it works. Regularly review any information about the law for accuracy and update as needed. Also be aware of time limits or any other limits.
Prioritise good design and user-friendly principles
Good design allows for clear navigation and user accessibility. User-friendly principles include using clear, plain language and structure. Engage an expert in user design if needed.
Test your product with your users
User testing is important to ensure your tool meets the needs of consumers. You should test various paths and scenarios during the development phase and again in the lead up to deployment to ensure your tool is safe and user-friendly.
Ensure your tool remains fit for purpose
The law is always evolving and requirements around different legal procedures are frequently updated. Conduct regular reviews of your tool’s content and usability to ensure it remains accurate and up-to-date with the relevant law and processes.
Your tool must also comply with the law applying to all consumer products.
Put in place a feedback process
Allow users to tell you easily if something about your tool is or isn’t working. Respond promptly to feedback and reassure users that action will be taken. Make any changes your system requires.
Get product liability insurance
Most tools will need separate product liability insurance, so make sure yours is covered. If your tool is part of a legal service or the marketing activities of a legal service, contact the Legal Practitioners’ Liability Committee (LPLC) to check if it is covered by your professional indemnity insurance policy.
Protect users’ data and privacy
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