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EasyLaw website offers Rs 500 / hr legal advice online, says BCI advertising ban doesn’t apply

EasyLaw.in: Lawyers on the web
EasyLaw.in: Lawyers on the web

Two British-educated non-lawyer entrepreneurs and a team that includes two lawyers have launched a website offering legal advice and services online to the aam admi and companies, which the founding team maintain complies with Bar Council of India (BCI) restrictions on lawyers advertising.

Services provided by EasyLaw, which launched this month at easylaw.in, include court marriages, prenuptial agreements, wills and codicils, certified copies, cheque dishonour legal notices, company incorporations and affidavits, stated the company in a press release.

“The legal services market in India is highly fragmented with a lack of large law firms due to regulation,” said the company in its release. “This means that often people have to spend significant time and effort in understanding legal costs associated with getting legal advice and / or legal documents executed; with no guarantee of quality in either case.”

Tariq Kamal, who is one of two lawyers now employed by EasyLaw, said: “Since the world over, the legal domain is freeing up to accommodate more affordable, professional services and a bouquet of choices to the common man, EasyLaw is our effort to provide 'Affordable, Smart, Easy' solutions.

“EasyLaw is a positive effort in the direction of bringing the day-to-day services to the doorsteps of the common man, who finds the legaleses and legal courts distant and unapproachable.”

The cost of drafting a will with EasyLaw would be Rs 995 and other services would be similarly inexpensive. The competitive cost was possible because of the website infrastructure and automation, allowing the service to be tailored accordingly, explained Dhruv to Legally India.

Dhruv added that the website also allowed the hiring of a lawyer on Rs 500 per hour. A person could call the toll free-number and ask for a lawyer. Once the client’s requirements were explained over the phone, EasyLaw would do an analysis of how many hours it would take to advise and they could meet with a lawyer. If extra hours were required, he said, the customer would not need to pay.

EasyLaw ‘not a law firm’

The BCI under rule 36 prohibits advocates from advertising their services [download BCI Rules – page 18] and states that “an advocate shall not solicit work or advertise, either directly or indirectly, whether by circulars, advertisements”, although it adds that “this Rule will not stand in the way of advocates furnishing website information as prescribed in the Schedule under intimation to and as approved by the Bar Council of India”.

In the Lawyers Collective case against foreign firms Ashurst, White & Case and Chadbourne Parke, the Bombay High Court held in 2009 that the Advocates Act and regulation by the BCI should apply to non-litigation legal advisory work: “The expressions ' to practise the profession of law' in section 29 of the 1961 Act is wide enough to cover the persons practising in litigious matters as well as persons practising in non litigious matters.” [indiakanoon]

EasyLaw director Dhruv Talwar said that BCI rules only prohibited lawyers from advertising who performed litigation work. EasyLaw, he explained, was not a law firm and did not perform litigation work but simply provided “legal assistance”.

Kamal agreed that “other non-litigious service providers like us” were not covered by the restriction. “In view of Bar Council of India Rules governing advocacy and standards of professional conduct and ethics, EasyLaw does not intend to project as a law firm or a group of advocates.

“Content and services made available through our website is not intended to and does not constitute legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed. While fully respecting the Bar Council directives which provide for restricted advertisement to lawyers and firms, we reiterate that EasyLaw is a professionally run 'service provider' organisation.”

Kamal also referred to the BCI’s 2008 relaxation of its rules on lawyers running websites, and said: “Pursuant to the decision in the case above, lawyers and law firms are now allowed to maintain blog/ websites with minimum informational pages.”

He added that a draft proposing the setting up of a legal services authority to look into the regulation of such non-litigious service provider was being considered by the law ministry and the Law Commission, and was still in offing.

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