Who needs lawyers? For some legal work, you may soon be able to do it yourself

Edmund Bon speaks to Malay Mail Online at his office in Kuala Lumpur on September 18. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng
Edmund Bon speaks to Malay Mail Online at his office in Kuala Lumpur on September 18. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

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KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 24 — Dread going to the lawyers for a simple sales-and-purchase agreement? Ever wish you could divorce your spouse from the comfort of your living room? If so, then you’re in luck.

A lawyer is attempting to make his profession “obsolete” — in certain matters — by developing template agreements and apps that people can use themselves instead of relying on lawyers to handle property purchases, divorces, or the preparation of wills.

Edmund Bon explained that documents such as sales and purchase (S&P) agreements for property purchases, uncontested wills and probate, accident claims, divorce petitions as well as mitigation and bail in criminal cases are not as complicated as imagined.

In fact, he said, these are generally standardised to such an extent that they that can be prepared by the general public once they have access to the documents’ framework.

“It’s do-it-yourself law,” Bon told Malay Mail Online in a recent interview.

“For S&P agreements, there are ‘boiler plate’ clauses. You just add names, addresses and sign, like a hire-purchase agreement which is now in standard form. You also change the title details of the property and specific issues relating to the property.

“It is similar for wills and probate where the forms are found in the court rules. All you need to do is to insert the names of the deceased and beneficiaries and details of the property to be inherited,” the lawyer added.

As one example, Bon said legal fees for an uncontested probate or divorce petitions could cost between RM7,000 and RM10,000 at the higher end of the market.

In what will be an unpopular move among the legal profession, Bon is planning to make these templates available to the public and possibly allow them to skip the trip to a law firm if there are no hiccups or extraordinary circumstances.

“Why should lawyers be charging so much? You can do it yourself if you wanted to and the law was simplified for that purpose,” the lawyer said.

According to the Malaysian Bar website, the legal fees for an S&P agreement are 1 per cent for the first RM150,000, 0.7 per cent for the next RM850,000, and so on.

Bon pointed out that in the past, banks used to get lawyers to draft hire-purchase agreements for people buying vehicles. Now, however, a standard template is used without relying on lawyers.

The former Bar Council member also noted that following amendments to UK law, non-lawyers may take an examination to register themselves as conveyancers to handle S&P agreements.

Bon said Malaysia should follow the UK’s footsteps since there are already existing S&P agreement templates provided in the Housing Development (Control and Licensing) Act 1996 for property purchases by housing developers.  

Through his firm’s pro bono project, “The Collective of Applied Law & Legal Realism”, Bon said a team of about 40 lawyers and students are aiming to launch next year templates and apps for standard form legal documents such as S&P agreements, wills and probate, accident claims, divorce petitions, while providing guidance on their use.

“This is a public service to improve access to justice. It’s slightly disingenuous to do something which you know can be done by a non-lawyer, and you’re profiting from it,” said the human rights lawyer.

Malaysian Bar president Christopher Leong said people would still generally need a lawyer’s advice to understand the legal meaning and consequences of the provisions in such template documents.

“For example, aside from a template SPA, we know that the agreements themselves are not sufficient as a purchaser or vendor would still need to know the procedures and processes in dealing with the Land Office, and as well as the redemption process if bank financing is required for the transaction,” Leong told Malay Mail Online, using the acronym for an S&P agreement.

“Thus, such template documents are beneficial to people who completely understand them and whose requirements are met by standard documents. Also, if the template documents are prepared and offered by a law firm, then it could also be a useful marketing tool for a law firm,” he added.

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