by Pedro Petiz, Master's student in Law and Informatics at UMinho
The 4.0 revolution has reached the legal services sector. New online platforms are emerging to connect clients and lawyers, while also providing new and innovative legal services. Nonetheless, several questions arise regarding these new businesses: Are they allowed under Portuguese law? And how are Bar Associations dealing with this new reality?
There are mainly two types of online legal platforms:
– Two-sided Platforms, where an intermediary selects the lawyers who appear on the website, defining the order in which they appear, or referring them to potential clients.[i]
– And websites providing legal services, which are provided directly or indirectly, not necessarily by lawyers.[ii] This category includes question and answer websites (https://answers.justia.com), legal chatbots (www.donotpay.com) and sites where legal documents are automatically drafted (https://lawhelpinteractive.org,[iii] http://www.a2jauthor.org[iv] or the Brazilian http://www.yousolveonline.com ).
Regarding the first type of platform, the Portuguese Bar Association has imposed a total prohibition on its use, on the grounds that they constitute “client solicitation”.[v] In my opinion, this prohibition is disproportionate and constitutes a breach of Article 101 of the TFEU.[vi]
As stated by the European Commission, professional rules “must be objectively necessary to attain a clearly articulated and legitimate public interest objective and they must be the mechanism least restrictive of competition to achieve that objective”.[vii]
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