Rachael Kelsey: Scots family lawyers embrace software tool for clients

Rachael Kelsey

SKO is one of the first of a dozen or so firms in Scotland to go live with a new online tool, designed specifically for Scots family law matters. The tool is already being used by over 50 firms south of the border and another 150 in Australia and New Zealand, writes Rachael Kelsey.

Settify was launched in Melbourne in 2017. It was created by a family lawyer, Max Paterson, with his friend, Athol Birtley, who is a corporate lawyer and enthusiastic coder. Between them they created a tool that allows clients – in their own time, and without commitment – to get personalised information about the law that applies to their circumstances.

A ‘Start online to see where you stand’ link to the Settify tool is added to a firm’s website which then guides the potential client through questions, allowing them to input relevant information about their situation – basic facts, detail about assets and liabilities and commentary on the background and concerns they have. The tool prompts for pertinent information and then creates a summary for the client, along with personalised information about the law, all of which is bespoke to the firm and branded by them.

If the client wants, they can then ask Settify to approach the firm to see if they can act. No information is released until a conflict check has been done. If clear, the information input by the client is passed to the firm who contact the client, as they would from any general phone or web enquiry. The difference, of course, being that with a Settify referral you are not calling blind, you have formatted data which includes, for example, all of the financial information in spreadsheet form.

The idea was to find a win/win for clients and solicitors. Clients would be able to get useful, tailored information before they commit to instructing a solicitor and then, when they do, they won’t need to have time taken up with things that don’t need solicitor input. From the lawyers’ perspective, it means that before you contact the potential client you have been able to assess who can most usefully help; what the parameters of a first meeting are likely to be and what you can offer in terms of a fixed or capped fee (if appropriate).

The attraction for SKO was that this was not about commodifying what we do, rather it was about freeing up resources to allow us to do something that only humans can do – exercise judgement, build rapport and apply experience.

What we saw from the outset though was that work would be required to translate Settify to Scotland. For example, all of the other jurisdictions were interested in capturing information about what a couple has now, whereas we were just as interested in what they had at, the ‘relevant date’, a point in the past. The language was going to be very different, as is the substantive law and therefore the information that clients would be given.

The fact that that translation work was required gave rise to a very special collaboration between solicitors across Scotland – instead of each of us working away on the blueprint individually, about ten firms worked together to create a Scottish Settify. Small groups dealt with individual parts of the process and pooled our resources and thoughts. Each of us have then been able to brand and personalise the information generated to reflect our own approaches. It will improve the experience of getting information about Scots family law for the public and vividly demonstrates the best of the ‘a rising tide raises all boats’ approach in the family law community in Scotland.

You can have a play on the SKO website, and soon the websites of many other firms across Scotland. Meantime, thanks to all of those who have worked together on this: Shona Smith of Balfour and Manson, Craig Samson of Blackadders, Lydia McLachlan of Brodies, Lesley Gordon of BTO, Cath Karlin of Cath Karlin Family Law, Alison Nicol of Jones Whyte, Ashley Simpson of Patience & Buchan, Zaynab Al Nasser of Turcan Connell, Amanda Wilson of Thorntons and Hayley Mitchell of Johnson Legal.

Rachael Kelsey is a founding director of SKO and works between Edinburgh and London specialising in Scots family law.