MACO – Lawyering as a Service (LaaS)?

By Lim Seng Siew

The lawyer of yesteryears is trained to analyse a legal problem with a client and to come up with the best possible solution in the circumstances. Yes, there will be constraints of time and resources and the solution takes these into consideration. Because lawyering of the yesteryears is effort-intensive, it is expensive. That age of expensive lawyering is coming to an end for most legal situations. Sure, the top-end of legal work will still require such in-depth analysis. But for most consumers of legal services, this will be an overkill. “80% is good enough” I am told.

The End of Analog

The reason for the change? Like almost everything else in today’s world, it’s because of technology. Just like the big and bulk cameras making way to mobile phones for taking pictures, the digital age has also affected the delivery of legal services. And like in photography, technology has made it easier and cheaper to do so.

Just as computational photography and Artificial Intelligence, the new normals, have replaced the skill needed to operate the camera, so too has legal AI replaced some of the skills needed for lawyering. We are not quite at the level of photography but just give legal AI time. Legal AI can now spot errors much better than a person can. It can even analyse clauses that are unusual.

The latest tool from the State Courts and the Singapore Academy of Law – Motor Accident Claims Online, or MACO for short – can provide answers (albeit with lots of caveats and disclaimers) on who is at fault in a motor accident and the amount of damages likely to be awarded. I am sure MACO will improve with time. 

Of course, we now say that while legal AI can predict outcomes based on past data, lawyering is also about exploiting the exceptions to the existing rules, something that AI is not good at, … for the moment at least. The AI will learn.

Introducing LaaS

So what is going to happen to the ‘bespoke’ (but in fact, run of the mill) professional services? Replaced by a simple query box. Enter the relevant information. Hit enter. An AI will give you the outcome of its analysis. Or better still, speak into your mobile phone (ala Siri or Google Assistant or Alexa) and the AI will give you its ‘opinion’. 

MACO is probably the thin end of the wedge. In the near future, there will be simulators for contract claims, building & construction claims, matrimonial assets distribution, maintenance awards and a whole lot of other legal stuff.

So is LaaS the future? For those clients who say ‘80% is good enough’, Yes. But the client has to accept that the 20% that is not covered may actually give you the answer that you are looking for. The dilemma of the ‘unknown unknown’.

For those clients who want a complete answer, it will have to be the traditional lawyering as a service provided by a hot-bodied lawyer. At least for now.