The word service denotes the action of helping or doing work of someone. The word has a wider connotation and is often succeeded by a pre-fix which gives a definite scope to the meaning of the word. One such pre-fix is ‘Legal’ which narrows the meaning of the word ‘Services’. In literal sense, a legal service means help or assistance or free service in the field of law. The apex court on various instances has stated that legal aid is not a charity but a duty of a welfare state.
Section 2 (1) (c) of the Legal Service Authority Act, 1987 defines Legal Service as:
“legal service” includes the rendering of any service in the conduct of any case or other legal proceeding before any court or other authority or tribunal and the giving of advice on any legal matter.
Legal Service in Indian Scenario
The quality of legal service plays a very important role in the development of justice delivery system of a country. The more efficient the service would be, the easier will be the access to justice. The history of legal service in India can be traced back to the times of British Regime, the British indeed brought an expensive system of administration of justice. The concept of legal service has been developing ever since then. The Indian legal system promotes the concept of providing legal service to those in need which is evident from the readings of the provisions of various laws.
The concept of Legal Service has a Constitutional backdrop in Article 39-A which expressly talks about Equal Justice and Free Legal Aid. This Article emphasises that free legal service is an inalienable element for ‘reasonable, fair and just’ procedure, for without it a person suffering from economic or other disabilities would be deprived of the opportunity for securing the ends of justice. Order 33 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 provides for filing of suits by indigent persons. It enables persons who are too poor to pay court fees to institute suits without payment of requisite court fees. Section 304 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 provides for legal aid to accused at the expense of State in certain cases. Apart from this, the constitution of 3-tier machinery namely the National Legal Service Authority (NALSA), State Legal Service Authority (SLSA) and District Legal Service Authority (DLSA) under the Legal Service Authority Act, 1987 has laid down policies, principles, and guidelines to implement the Legal Services Program throughout the country.
Online Legal Service
The concept of Online Legal Services is not new but is in budding phase in a country like India. With the ‘Digital India’ paving its way, Online Legal Services is not a distant dream. According to a report “Internet in India 2017” published jointly by Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and Kantar IMRB, the number of Internet users in India was estimated to be 481 million in December, 2017, marking a considerable growth of 11.34% over the last estimated figures of December, 2016. India is ranked second largest online market, next to China. The internet has become an indispensable tool, the role of Information Technology in delivery of Legal Service will enable people to turn for basic guidance on substantive as well as procedural issues not to lawyers but Online Legal Services.
E-learning refers to any type of learning facilitated via electronic media. In an industry where learning is a constant part, the legal industry hasn’t yet fully adopted e-learning. However, there are online courses, webinars and other digital media that are offered by various academic institutions and also law firms which are easy to enrol and ready to go. E-learning plays an essential part in a profession where every individual is over-worked and long hours are the norm. The benefit of this e-learning is that it is easy to deploy, independent of location and saves considerable time. E-learning also helps to get a brief insight of all what is happening in the legal world which is largely dynamic in nature because of changing laws at the need of every hour. With the advent of time these online legal learning and trainings are expected to replace the law lectures and eventually take over the traditional methods of teaching in a law school.
Online Dispute Resolution (ODR)
The Online Dispute Resolution is a practice of alternative dispute resolution system which uses technology to facilitate the resolution of disputes between parties. It primarily involves e-negotiation, e-mediation or e-arbitration, or a combination of all three. ODR is still missing from the Indian scenario. The ODR is much speedier and less complex in comparison to the traditional litigation. Considering the current state of the justice system in India, the need for ODR will be felt very soon and we must prepare ourselves for the same by establishing a sound technology legal base.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Artificial intelligence is intelligence demonstrated by machines, in contrast to the natural intelligence displayed by humans and other animals. Indian legal service industry, which is often termed as the least technologically progressive sector is being transformed significantly by Artificial Intelligence. Start up like SpotDrafts, CaseMine, NearLaw etc. have changed the face of Indian Legal Sector. It assists by automating tasks such as due diligence, document drafting and performing legal research.
Online Legal Advice
There are various platforms today which offer legal advice to its clients free of cost and some of them even charge a nominal fee. But this system is not fully developed as people still heavily rely on meeting a lawyers personally to resolve their issues. These systems can provide legal information, online documentation, legal guidance, and even legal advice across the internet. Such a system will not only help the clients to save their time but will also turn out to be cost effective as clients will have a wide range of options to compare and choose from what is more appropriate for them.
The concept of Online Legal Services is turning out to be a reality in today’s world. But at the same time these developments in the field of legal world will turn out to be disruptive for the practicing lawyers and law firms. However, it seems impossible that these technological advancements would ever replace the Judges and their judgements which are based on legal reasoning driven by empathy and humanity while dispensing justice. The concept of Online Legal Services in totality will bring with itself some challenges not only for the lawyers but also for the clients who may end up resting their case in wrong hands. The scope of error would be minimal but when a human can make errors, the software and online platforms cannot be trusted blindly. I only portray mere possibilities of near future which may or may not take course but the future of Legal Services is waiting to unfold to forge new paths of our most important social institution.
• Susskind Richard, TOMORROW’S LAWYERS, Oxford University Press, 2013