Hong Kong Lawyer

November 2017

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Ms. Heidi Chu, Secretary General 秘書長朱潔冰律師 Online Service Providers A recent television programme interviewed a business owner on her experience in using online service providers ("OSP") to manage her legal documents. Typically, OSPs provide standard document templates for a monthly fee. Users can log in to a website to create their own documents based on standardised templates and an online questionnaire. For an additional fee, a live chat on specific issues can be arranged. In the programme, a comparison was made between these OSPs and law firms in terms of pricing, convenience and time. The result is obvious. However, the comparison itself is flawed. The two entities cannot be compared as they do not belong in the same category. Yet, the fact that such a comparison is often made illustrates that the public has increasingly confused OSPs for law firms. Law firms are managed by practising solicitors who are subject to strict professional rules of ethics and practice regulations under the law. To ensure a minimum standard of protection for the public, practising solicitors are required to maintain professional indemnity cover at no less than a specified statutory limit for the losses arising from claims in respect of civil liabilities incurred in the course of their practice. On the other hand, the OSPs claim that they are not law firms and thus do not submit to the rules and regulations that apply to law firms, including the mandatory professional indemnity requirement. Operators of these OSPs, though legally qualified, claim that they are not practising as solicitors. However, OSPs do provide services that are legally related, and some operators promote themselves as qualified legal practitioners, boasting years of private practice experience. This induces trust from the public that they can expect an OSP's services to be up to the standard expected from a practising solicitor or a law firm, but omits any warning that such providers are not regulated as practising solicitors or as law firms. As such, the public is not protected in the same way in the event that they suffer losses resulting from an OSP's advice. The increasingly interactive nature of the services provided by the OSPs has raised concerns. Before the proliferation of online platforms, sharing of legal information used to be in print form. The publication of law books and document templates for sale to consumers is subject to consumer laws, as it is not a regulated legal activity. Online publications are no different. However, OSPs go beyond the commoditisation of static legal information by giving interactive advice in response to specific instructions. These services present new issues. It involves the creation of a trust relationship between the service provider and the individual user. If the provider promotes its legal services by holding itself out as having legal professional 線上服務提供商 最近一個電視節目採訪了一位業務東主,了解她在使 用線上服務提供商管理法律文件方面的經驗。線上服 務提供商通常按月收費提供標準文件範本。使用者可 登錄網站,根據標準的範本和線上問卷,創建自己的 文檔。如支付額外收費,可就特定問題安排實時聊天 查詢。 該電視節目就這些線上服務提供商與律師行的收費、 方便程度和時間進行了比較。結果很明顯,但該比較 本身存在缺陷。兩者不能互相比較,因為它們不屬於 相同類別。然而,這種比較經常出現,顯示公眾越多 把線上服務提供商與律師行混為一談。 律師行由執業律師管理,必須依法遵守嚴格的專業道 德守則。為確保公眾受到最低保障,執業律師必須就 執業業務所招致的民事法律責任上的申索而引起的損 失提供專業彌償。 相反,線上服務提供商聲稱它們並非律師行,因此毋 須遵守適用於律師行的規則和條例,包括強制性的專 業彌償要求。這些線上服務提供商的運營人雖然具備 法律資格,但卻聲稱他們在提供服務時,並非以執業 律師身份提供服務。 然而,線上服務提供商的確提供了與法律相關的服 務,一些提供商宣傳自己為合資格的法律執業者,擁 有多年私人執業經驗,從而獲取公眾的信任。線上服 務提供商向公眾製造了其服務將會達到執業律師或律 師行的應有標準的期望,而忽略了警告公眾它們不像 執業律師或律師行般受監管。因此,公眾若因線上服 務提供商的意見造成損失,並不會獲得相同的保障。 線上服務提供商提供的服務越來越具互動,這點引起 了關注。在網絡平台益及之前,法律資訊共享以印刷 版為主。出版法律書籍和出售文件範本受保障消費者 的法律約束,因為它並非受規管的法律活動。線上出 版亦異曲同工。 但是,線上服務提供商不僅出售靜態法律資訊,亦因 應特定指示提供互動法律意見。這些服務帶來了新的 問題,因它涉及服務提供商與用戶之間建立互信。若 FROM THE SECRETARIAT 律 師 會 秘 書處 資 訊 12 www.hk-lawyer.org •  November 2017

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