How to Commoditise Legal Products: A Case Story of Testanemt.dk

Henrik Bartels

Morten Arnberg

XLNC member firm ADVODAN initially started working on a digital strategy and digital transformation back in 2017 – outlining five key elements in the process. One element was the transformation of products and services – especially with a view to commoditising existing legal services. The other four elements were transformation of customer engagements, improved (digital) work processes, digital empowering of employees, and restructuring of back office functions (toward a more digitised organisation). The Danish legal tech scene had by then already seen quite a few nonattorney start-up companies who offered online drafting of wills and testaments, for example. The process of these services, however, typically involved the customer answering 15 or more complicated legal questions, making it difficult for the end customer to complete – as well as providing the customer with no usable understanding of what, why, or how.

The Idea

Actively wanting a different approach, and to leverage our vast experience and knowledge of the legal arena (our sole advantage competitively speaking), we conducted an extensive fact-finding and analysis of a few hundred wills and testaments drafted over the last couple of years by our law firm. Our analysis uncovered that customers with same types of family constructions had identical or near identical wills and testaments, with very few differences. Based hereon, we developed a new approach to the drafting of wills and testaments. Instead of asking the customers difficult questions of a legal nature, we ask the customers about their family situation: are they married, single or in a relationship? Do they have children or not? If they have children, are they both parents’ children, or is it one parent’s children only, or a mix? In the case where the customers (the couple) have ‘his and her and/or common children’, do they want the children to inherit on an equal pro-rata basis or do they want the children to inherit (only) from their specific parent. Based on the answers to these questions alone, the system we developed then generates a will tailored to the specific family pattern. Or rather, the system pulls the relevant standard document/ form tailored to the specific family type and the couple’s names, etc, are filled into the standard form via a template on the system platform.

The Process

The idea was born in late autumn 2017, and until the platform opened for business on 01 January 2019, our journey has been filled with obstacles. First, it was necessary to establish a separate company to own and run the business, as law firms are prohibited from doing so, under Danish goodpractice rules for Law firms. This obviously also carries the less than motivating fact of having to invest in the start-up of a new company with funds that have already been levied with taxes. Second, we experienced what we already knew would be a challenge from existing clients and general digital transformation literature – that a partner-driven business constitutes quite a formidable challenge when it comes to agility and manoeuvrability. It is not without reason that most companies who venture into digitisation warn that new endeavours must be explored in a separate entity, and in an entity that is wholly self-governing and autonomous also in financial terms. Third, it is an in-coherent process if you are not able to allocate the necessary work force continually. In that case it becomes an ‘after hours’ task which lacks momentum and focus. There is always another case to be handled back in the law firm, and the lack of up-front support and acknowledgement in an organisation will always be challenging to these ideas. These issues need to be addressed before embarking on the journey. Next, the process of developing and executing a new business is, strangely enough, no different than any other start-up business. It requires blood, sweat, tears, and a lot of hours. It takes time, and a lot of it. Plus a very specific set of skills and professional competencies.

 

How to Interact with Developers and Business Administrators

It is our experience that in order to succeed, it is necessary to build a team consisting of innovative lawyers (with in-depth knowledge of the legal business area), business administrators, and tech people. If you can facilitate an environment
where these three groups can interact and work together closely to create and innovate, this is undoubtedly the most opportune road to successfully navigate the challenges described above. But once the results are there, it is worth all the trouble.

A Tool

In our view, it is important to constantly have a dual focus on the product, both as a commodity that can be sold to customers, with no attorney interaction, and as a tool for the attorneys. There is no reason why our attorneys should not use the platform developed as our own tool in drafting wills and testaments of more complicated nature. The platform will complete the basis of the will or testament, leaving the attorney with the (often minimal) task of tailoring the final details to specific customers, who fall outside the scope of the commodity product or who require specific advice on complex estates etc.

The Responsibility?

Many have raised questions about the professional liability connected to the rendering of attorney’s advice on a digital platform. First, we have for multiple reasons decided to run the business as a non-attorney business. This means that the strict attorney regulation (in Denmark) does not apply to the platform. Secondly, it is our opinion that the platform offers a close to ‘fool-proof’ approach in terms of responsibility. The final will and testament is the end product of designed documents, that are specifically tailored to a specific family situation. Basically, it is our contention that if the customer wants something different than what is in the will, it is a mistake or due to a wrongful perception of the existing legal environment. The standard document has been created based on several hundred wills drafted by experienced lawyers, for people in the exact same family situation. Thus, the original factfinding and analysis that constitute the base for the webservice provide substantial legal quality assurance.

Obviously, it can be argued that the platform does not take into consideration the individual wishes and ideas of the customer. This may in part be true, but it fails to recognise, that the standard document has come into existence through analysis of hundreds of wills – that were found to be wholly or partially identical, despite being drafted by different lawyers. As such, the product should be more correct than the individually drafted will, which carries the risk of being based on a lack of knowledge of possibilities and consequences and of specific attorney’s preferences who do not draw upon the said fact-finding and analysis. Essentially, if the customer chooses something that is not the same as everyone else in their situation, it is from the outset a mistake.

Finally, the product delivers what people in that particular family situation generally would prefer or choose, and it is backed up by empirical evidence to that fact, making it more viable than almost any other will, where the choices are more or less being made by the attorneys (in the majority of the cases). Very few people have any understanding of the complicated legal area, and they all want to hear what other people normally do. Also, it is impossible in the normal attorney meeting to present the customer with all relevant decisions. The attorney does that (untold) during the normal attorney meeting, based on what the attorney learns from the customer about their family situation and the attorney’s experience with other similar families. Which is basically what we have bottled and put on a shelf. Finally, we do of course correct for the customer’s wishes. As our base by far covers most issues, this, in practice, takes very little time.

The Future

As outlined above, that commoditisation came about primarily by thinking about our services in a different way. This way of rethinking the services via a fact-finding approach into products could and should be transformed on (most of ) our services. We are now focused on finding and attracting partners in order to grow the business outside Denmark. So, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us, if you are interested in teaming up to bring Testanemt to your country.


XLNC MAGAZINE | No. 04 | November 2019

 

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