This article first appeared in Personal Wealth, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on Dec 7 - 13, 2015.
CONSUMERS can look forward to obtaining legal documents at no cost when do-it-yourself legal platform DIYLaw is launched next year. They will be able to download legal documents and templates for free via a web portal.
Behind this initiative are Bon Advocates founder and head of chambers Edmund Bon and his team. Bon, who has been practising law since 1998, served as chairperson of the Bar Council’s Constitutional Law Committee from 2009 to 2011.
He explains how the do-it-yourself model can be applied to legal documents. “Many agreements and legal documents are based on templates. Take a contract — usually, a lawyer draws one up, then any lawyer at the firm can replicate the document to be given to another client. So, we plan to make these available using technology.”
Another example is when a client asks his lawyer to draft a shareholders’ agreement, for which he might be charged RM15,000. Later, if another client wants such an agreement drafted, the lawyer is likely to use the previous document as a template, amend it based on the client’s needs and charge the same amount.
DIYLaw aims to educate Malaysians on legal matters that affect them every day, such as contracts, consumer rights, wills and even how to get a divorce. Bon says Malaysians suffer from a low legal literacy level, citing the “Preliminary Access to Justice” survey published on July 7. The survey found that 81% of the respondents did not believe that most people understand how the court system and legal services work.
“The foundation and principle reason for DIYLaw is education. We want to educate as many Malaysians as possible on their legal rights,” he says, adding that the platform’s target audience falls under three categories.
“The first category is people who know they need legal help but find it too expensive. This prevents access to justice and legal services. The second category is people who need legal help but don’t know where to find it. Then, there’s the third category — those who don’t even know they need legal help.”
DIYLaw will not be the first service to offer do-it-yourself legal documents in the country. DocuDeer, founded by Eddie Law and Foong Cheng Leong, has provided legal information services and documents since 2013. It provides do-it-yourself documents for things like tenancy, confidentiality and data privacy agreements. Some of the documents are free, but others can cost RM50 to RM500. DocuDeer serves practising and in-house lawyers, small and medium enterprises, and individuals.
DIYLaw aims to be different by making the format of these documents easier to understand and therefore, more accessible to the layperson. Anyone, as long as they are literate and know how to use the internet, will have no problem using the platform. “It will be easy to use,” says Bon.
Although the do-it-yourself approach to legal documents may seem new in Malaysia, some people have been at it for quite some time now. Carol (not her real name), a white-collar worker in her early thirties who is currently based in Petaling Jaya, says she has written her own will.
“At first, I researched drafts of wills online to educate myself. At least online, I won’t be getting advice from someone eager to push me products,” she adds.
Now, she is helping her peers write their wills. “I figured that since my will was a simple and straightforward one, I could just use the template I found online. It was drafted by a Malaysian lawyer and is comprehensive and detailed.”
She says she only needed to put down in writing all the assets she had, namely a car, property and bank accounts as well as her last wishes. She adds that because her situation is straightforward and her family understands her wishes, she does not anticipate any problems to arise later.
“If my needs or situation were more complicated, I would engage a professional will writer or lawyer. For example, if I had to decide on child custody, assets in different jurisdictions or if I thought my will might be contested after I died. But my needs are quite simple, so I was glad I could just print the template, fill it up and get two witnesses to sign it. Easy!”
Still a need for lawyers
Since announcing the DIYLaw platform in the middle of the year, Bon has faced a barrage of criticism from others in the legal fraternity, mainly how it will affect their rice bowl. He says there were a lot of misunderstandings when he announced the idea of DIYLaw, and clarifies that the platform is not here to take away the lawyers’ bread and butter.
“Many of these templates are so simple that you don’t really earn very much from them, or non-lawyers are already churning them out. What we should do is use technology to our benefit, push ourselves to try and focus on more high value work,”
Meanwhile, others lament that there will be no need for a lawyer’s presence once the legal documents are made available. Bon says this will not be the case.
“There are certain circumstances where you will still need a lawyer. We have never said you won’t need a lawyer because it depends on the type of case [you are facing].”
While the documents available on DIYLaw are enforceable in court if done correctly, users should refer to a lawyer if they are unsure whether they have filled in the documents correctly, says Bon. “You may make a mistake or need someone to double-check your template. Therefore, we will clearly state on the website that if your matter is more complex, if you need peace of mind, or if you think it doesn’t work for you, we advise you to seek legal advice. We will always have that [disclaimer],” he adds.
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