It is often said, and rightly so, that the legal world presents a greater resistance to innovation than other sectors of activity. However, this attachment to the traditional does not translate into absolute impermeability to the digital revolution that shakes all economic areas. Proof of this is the flourishing of digital platforms that put lawyers and clients in contact. Some applications that, here too, are raising the suspicion and criticism of many lawyers, who consider that violate the principles and regulation of the profession.
The operation of all of them is substantially the same. Free of charge, the potential client of a legal service makes a presentation of their case, which is sent to the lawyers registered in the application, who are charged some type of fee or subscription, and they decide whether or not to accept the affair.
According to the managers of these digital platforms, the idea on which these tools are based is that the majority of citizens do not know who to contact when they have a legal problem or they go to a lawyer who is not a specialist in the field. Faced with this, these applications not only offer a list of professionals classified by location and specialty, but also allow us to know the value that other users have made of them.
What is the problem with this new business model? That the attorney-client relationship is not a simple hiring of services, but that it has additional constraints, the result of being the manifestation of the fundamental right to legal defense. Thus, article 5.4.2 of the Code of Ethics of European Lawyers determines that lawyers can not pay "fees, commission or any other compensation as counterpart" for the referral of a client. A prohibition that also includes article 19 of the Code of Ethics of the General Council of Spanish Law (CGAE). Is the fee or subscription of these digital platforms an illicit payment? The answer is not simple and, as has happened with the Glovo and Deliveroo litigation, the operation of each application can lead to different resolutions.
In ElAbogado.com, which has 12,000 registered professionals, it is the lawyers who determine how much they will pay to the application for each case. Its founder, Martí Manet, points out that can not be said to be selling the issues to the highest bidder, because that price is only one of the variables that the algorithm takes into account to decide which user sends the query. "There are lawyers who tell me: 'I pay you a lot but you send me few issues.' Sure, because there are other factors such as response time or customer satisfaction," he explains. The configuration of the algorithm, however, is confidential.
Tuappbogado, which has 7,000 lawyers registered in its platform, charges professionals a fixed subscription: 66 euros per month, plus VAT. In this case, the application sends users a zone and a certain specialty with the cases that may be of interest to them and it is the lawyers themselves who dedicate themselves.
Something more complex is the system developed by Lexgoapp, an application that has 2,000 registered users. Specifically, when a citizen raises a case, the managers of the platform value it and put a price between two and seven credits. There are different credit packages: the eight is worth 49 euros plus VAT; the one of 39, reaches 199 euros; and that of 75 credits reaches 499 euros.
The apparently most aggressive system is that of Soldier Lawyer (it has almost 200 lawyers registered), which is offered as an application for "legal auctions". In it, potential clients specify how much is the maximum they are willing to pay for their case and, from there, the lawyers decide whether or not to bid for the defense. The CEO of the platform, Carlos Tormo, clarifies that the term "auction" responds to an advertising strategy, but that in no case is it intended to devalue legal advice by pulling prices. "The bids are secret, they are between the lawyer and the client", explains this entrepreneur to underpin the idea that they neither intend to market with the fees nor encourage a sale to losses of legal services.
Esther Montalvá, of the Bar Association of Madrid (ICAM), recognizes the concern that these applications have aroused among many lawyers, but believes that, while adhering to what is determined by the Law of Services of the Information Society, there is no objection any legal "If they limit themselves to joining supply and demand, they are a fabulous advance, and my opinion changes if one professional or another is assigned based on who pays more," he says. Fernando Candela, of the CGAE, is more emphatic about this topic: "Lawyers can not be in favor of these platforms, the legal service is not a commodity". Of course, for now, neither the Council nor the ICAM have received any complaint for these digital applications, which prevents them from acting against them.
In this context, and before embarking on a tortuous judicial path, Candela believes that the solution lies in self-regulation. In fact, the CGAE works in that sense. "We are working on a code of conduct and, whoever adheres, will have a seal of compliance that will bring confidence in their services," he explains.
From the Institute of Legal Innovation, his partner, Laura Fauqueur, points out that this is precisely the solution that has been adopted in France. There, lawyers and digital platforms have subscribed a letter that serves, to whom it subscribes, to prove that it respects the principles of the profession. A way that, in his opinion, is correct because "it is always better to want to participate in how things will be done in the future, than to try to block changes," he adds.