Let’s call the whole thing off. Quickly.

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

There are few clients more keen to bring a swift end to proceedings than a divorcing couple. With that in mind, a Canadian company has come up with an app to help couples without legal representation to navigate the tricky – not to say often rather emotional – waters of divorce proceedings.  

Thistoo claims to “deliver personalised service at a fraction of the cost of law firms”, and went live in Canada earlier this year. Included in the app is a database of previous divorce cases enabling them to get some idea of how likely their case is to resolve – and, if not, the likely barriers. There is a comparable divorce app in the UK offered by law firm Mills & Reeve: it has FAQs and advice, but does not boast quite the wealth of information included in Thistoo. 

Thistoo was set up by a certain Samuel Witherspoon, law graduate and erstwhile clerk to the Canadian federal court. His aim, in creating this ‘personal divorce assistant’, was (he says) to ‘fix’ the legal process for the average consumer. Not satisfied with conquering Canada, he now has sights set very firmly on UK shores. Crucially, Canadian family and divorce law is not dissimilar to that in the UK, which should facilitate a swift transition from one jurisdiction to the other. Witherspoon reports that investors have had a ‘huge’ appetite for the app – ‘especially those who have experienced divorce first hand.’ 

An important aspect of the app, which Witherspoon plans to roll out later in 2016, will be the ability for users to compare their own case with historical case data, and assess the likely financial toll of litigation. He rather boldly asserts that “In this way we hope to show more people that litigation makes very little financial sense regardless of how much money you may have.”  The app features a ‘document extraction’ facility together with agreement monitoring. Costs of using the app range from £10.69 for a divorce application and just over £100 for a full separation agreement.  

And how, you might well ask, has this gone down with the couples involved? Perhaps predictably, Witherspoon is enthusiastic about the app’s ability to both streamline proceedings and lend a certain good-humoured atmosphere to what can be a notoriously tricky situation: “one customer invited her soon-to-be ex and they each independently generated their own version of their separation agreements and then compared the differences. They used it to quickly see where they were not understanding one another and facilitated a much more productive dialogue.” 

Well, fine. But what about the lawyers – not least those who have spent years developing their expertise and empathy in order to offer a top-quality, expert service to divorcing couples? Their reaction has, apparently, been “quite positive”, he said, with Thistoo referring clients to law firms where appropriate: “Right now we have been personally vetting each firm we refer customers to and establishing their upfront fixed rate.” 

It’s natural to query where this seemingly endless tide of tech innovation leaves traditional legal practice. And those of us who have seen quite how complex and high-stakes a divorce can get will quail at the notion of potentially life-changing events being left in the hands of a smartphone. The imperative to keep costs low in light of ever-dwindling sources of funding is high – but surely encouraging clients to be overly reliant on a mere app when the real expertise lies within law firms is dangerous? Witherspoon says, “Lawyers are here to stay… I believe that lawyers’ true value is in their high-touch services and client interaction. Clients deeply value being listened to and I cannot see computers solving this problem in the near future.” 

Here at Legastat we understand the need to look to the future whilst maintaining – and developing – traditional legal practice, and all the expertise and experience that can only be found by consulting a lawyer. If you are looking to ensure your practice makes the most of the array of legal tech on offer without compromising on traditional values, call our expert litigation support professionals now.  

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