Lifehacker, Law Hacks and Preventative Lawyering

I am an avid reader of the website Lifehacker. Every day, there are new posts on an incredible range of topics with the single goal of making life easier. Recently, for example, there were hacks on making cold-brew coffee, winning an argument and reducing energy bills through smart landscaping. It seems to me that Lifehacker absolutely lives up to its motto: Tips, tricks, and downloads for getting things done.

I’ve noticed too that Lifehacker has a way of pinpointing issues in my daily life that I’ve not yet identified as issues, and in many cases, may never have identified as needing attention. If I can’t implement or apply the tips immediately, I often save these posts in my feed reader for future reference.

This leads me to think about the work we do as lawyers and wonder why don’t more lawyers approach their clients in this way, providing helpful legal hacks and easy to implement strategies to make their clients’ lives easier? For example, firms might include useful links on their website to direct clients to basic information on selecting a business name or filing application for a government benefit.

These tips could also include simple forms or checklists that would be of use to clients and that help them to determine whether they need legal services and if so, whether you’re the one to provide them.

Delivering proactive assistance and advice to improve or enhance a client’s business or personal affairs can create a whole lot of goodwill and help to strengthen an existing lawyer-client relationship.

Lee Rosen recently blogged about the networking benefits of going out of your way to do small favors for a contact noting that such efforts can cement a relationship and ensure you’ll be front of mind when that contact encounters a legal issue. I suggest this isn’t so different than providing the sort of helpful information and advice you might find on a site like Lifehacker but focused on your client’s legal needs.

Taking a proactive and preventative approach to your clients’ legal health not only serves a potentially effective marketing function but can also aid in bridging the access to justice gap.

Research conducted by the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters found that in Canada, over 20% of the population take no meaningful action with respect to their legal problems, and over 65% think that nothing can be done, are uncertain about their rights, do not know what to do, think it will take too much time, cost too much money or are simply afraid.

The Committee went on to conclude that access to justice would be greatly enhanced through taking a preventative approach, akin to that taken in the area of public health:

We need to focus not only on resolving disputes but on preventing them as well. Access to justice has often been thought of as access to courts and lawyers. However, we know that everyday legal problems mostly occur outside of formal justice structures. This insight should lead us to fundamentally re-think how we approach legal problems in terms of preventing them from happening where possible, and when they do occur, providing those who experience them with adequate information and resources to deal with them in an efficient and effective way….To borrow Richard Susskind’s observation, ‘it is much less expensive to build a fence at the top of a cliff than to have need of an expensive ambulance at the bottom.’

The Final Report of the Canadian Bar Association’s access to justice initiative, Reaching Equal Justice, recommended that as a prevention tool, individuals get legal health check-ups. The writers note that:

Initiatives that focus on legal health advance our capacity to prevent legal problems and build resilience to future or recurring legal problems. Just as the health system aims to both prevent and treat disease, so too the justice system should aim to prevent legal problems in addition to providing assistance when they arise.

Helpfully, Legal Health Check forms are now available via the initiative website.

I’m not currently aware of a legal-hacks website along the lines of Lifehacker that focuses on the needs of current or future consumers of legal services, but I can’t help but think this is an idea whose time has come.


Featured image: “Empty checklist with copy space” from Shutterstock.

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