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Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint
Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint

Can there be ‘Uber moment’ in India’s legal sector?

The Indian legal ecosystem too has seen a push toward technology over the last few years

New Delhi: In this story, Mint profiled the fees charged by the top lawyers in the country. The numbers are a reflection of the exclusivity of access to the best legal advice. The only counter, according to this 11 April report in the Financial Times, is technology. The FT report, titled Technology: Breaking the Law, said that the legal sector in the US and UK was headed towards an Uber moment, referring to the overhaul that took place in the taxi system after the launch of the app-based service.

The Indian legal ecosystem too has seen a push toward technology over the last few years.

Case law database and search engine Indian Kanoon recently launched a virtual assist software or legal research tool. The virtual assist option, available for a fee, will help with annotating cases and creating ready documents with existing research, the website’s creator Sushant Sinha said. The feature also boasts of being free of advertisements.

The search engine has the look and feel of Google, having been inspired by it. Sinha has maintained the website by himself, with a little help from his lawyer friends, since its launch in January 2008. The process of collecting judgments across all high courts (except three) and the Supreme Court happens daily and is completely automated. Each day, roughly 4,000 judgments are added. While there are other competing (and usually more relied on by lawyers) databases like Manupatra and SCC Online, neither is free.

Automation is key in today’s fast-paced environment. That’s also the motto of a 25-year-old lawyer-turned-entrepreneur Akshat Anand, who started Provakil—an app and website which helps you track your cases, so you can know when it will be heard next, whether an order has been uploaded and such. The app, launched in August 2015, is still being developed.

The look of the app is clean, with a simple white and green interface. I tried the app, and it turned out to be almost instantaneous with its updates of orders and possible next date of hearing. Anand said that the website was based on Google material design. As of now, the Provakil database contains material on nearly 5 lakh cases from three courts—the Supreme Court, Delhi high court and the National Consumer Disputes Resolution Commission.

If the case numbers for any of one of these is entered into the app, the details start showing. It is public data that Provakil hunts for and stores it in its database, Anand said.

Regular updates of orders, the next dates of hearing and other relevant information is fed into the database, and the process is completely automated. The venture has been profitable for Anand and his small team of five developers. Anand hopes to add case details from 10 high courts, the National Green Tribunal, the Competition Appellate Tribunal and Delhi district courts in the next six months into the database. His vision, however, is to cover 200 courts within the next year.

The other area where technology is seeing a boom is in providing access to legal services.

One such website, which has gained visibility over the last five years is Vakilsearch.

Hrishikesh Datar, a 2010 graduate of the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru, started the website which provides services like incorporating companies, helping with trademarks and taxes. Launched in 2011, Vakilsearch now boasts of a gross revenue of 1.2 crore per month and a 120,000-strong client base. This shows an increasing move towards accessing legal services online, over emails and calls.

Quality control is an important aspect of the business, Datar said. He added that they rely on inputs from the customers to assess the quality of lawyers and service providers they connect with.

Two of the three entrepreneurs talked of bringing a disruption in the legal sector—while that level of disruption may not have been achieved yet, according to Datar, the attempt is on.

Will the Indian legal system reach its Uber moment?

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