Today’s Wills and Probate talks to Alpha Legal founder Robin Bennett , about a new service helping the legal industry work in the “new normal”.
TWP: Robin, first of all, what’s the background to Alpha Legal?
RB: Alpha Legal from Start Software solves the problems we are all having when seeing clients face-to-face is not easy, not possible, or not expected! The “new normal” is challenging the whole industry and Alpha Legal is aimed squarely at solving problems in a secure, easy-to-use and cost-effective way.
The COVID pandemic has accelerated the demand for digital solutions in all client-facing businesses, and especially in the legal services industry. Alpha Legal provides the tools to meet client expectations with its remote working, Zoom meetings and electronic signing & sharing of documents, for a fast, seamless onboarding experience.
TWP: Who is Alpha Legal aimed at?
RB: Essentially, if you work with clients in a legal services context, then Alpha Legal will work for you. Whether your business involves will writing or estate planning, conveyancing or estate agency, financial accounting or independent financial advice, Alpha Legal provides the mechanisms you need to work securely and remotely with your clients.
TWP: What’s your background in software and the legal industry?
RB: I’ve been writing software commercially since I was 15, that’s 35 years ago! My first experience of will writing software was when I created Will Writer for Windows, the UK’s first successful automated will writing software. That was 25 years ago now but was a really good introduction to the legal services industry.
Soon after creating Will Writer for Windows, I founded Legacy Partners along with David Holloway (who had already created a successful will writing business based on software of his own design). At Legacy Partners, we introduced a turn-key approach to will writing, offering a package of training, laptop and software which, looking back, was years ahead of its time. Orders were taken, transmitted and processed electronically – these ideas broke new ground.
Roll on a couple of decades and my software business (Start Software) now has offices in the UK and Australia, and developers around the world. We entered the will writing world again after I was reintroduced to Clive Ponder. Clive was one of our original Legacy Partners consultants and is the founding director of Countrywide Tax & Trust Corporation Ltd (CTTC Ltd), a hugely successful estate planning business with 1000s of consultants across the country.
We’re really pleased to be working in partnership with CTTC Ltd and other large will writing businesses such as Legacy Legal. We have integrated our Alpha Legal secure client communication platform with their order processing software to make life as easy as possible for consultants working with those organisations.
TWP: What exactly does Alpha Legal do?
RB: Alpha Legal is all about securing your client relationship in an easy, safe and contact-free way. Its ID checks, forms & messages help you communicate securely with clients, request ID documents and complete pre-visit forms. It’s so easy for clients that even those scared of technology find it easy!
Identity documents, bank statements and other sensitive, personal information can be shared with confidence in a GDPR-compliant and simple way. Legal service businesses can send an ID request to a client with a single click. There is no need to arrange an appointment or wait for the client to be free – it’s quick and contact-free.
More importantly, with older technologies like unencrypted email becoming easy targets for hackers, Alpha Legal’s forms provide a safe and secure method for sending sensitive and confidential information. All databases and communications between businesses and clients are encrypted to the highest standards.
It’s simple for clients to use too. They receive a link by email and a security code via text message. The client needs only to photograph or upload their documents and capture a short video of themselves. Technology in the forms validates the content of the uploaded documents helping to get it right first time.
TWP: What is the client experience?
RB: Alpha Legal’s client portal is a simple way to enhance your communications and brand. The consultant and client can upload and share documents securely, whenever they want.
If the document being shared needs to be signed, an option is available to Share & Sign. Notifications are sent automatically to all people who need to sign the document, and easy-to-follow instructions on how to sign are included – whether this is via E-asysign® electronic signature technology for the insertion of multiple signatures or via the appending of a signature page. It’s quick and secure, and can be achieved without meeting in person.
Alpha Legal isn’t “just another electronic signature platform” though, it has been built to facilitate secure communication. If the client isn’t happy to sign a document, they can give precise feedback. Whether the problem is spelling mistakes, names not correctly specified, or issues with the document structure or intention, they can quickly and easily highlight their objections.
There’s a companion app included too, which clients love. They track their net worth and assets, and can then choose to share that information with you and other trusted advisors. The onboarding & fact finding experience couldn’t be easier.
The ID app is really easy for clients to follow. The whole process can be carried out from their mobile phone. Two-factor authorisation is used so the client receives a link by email as well as a security code by text message. The security code needs to be entered in order to follow the link, then simple instructions guide the client through the process of photographing or uploading their documents.
TWP: What prompted the idea for Alpha Legal? Why should we be so worried about security?
RB: As a fellow of the Institution of Analysts & Programmers, Britain’s leading professional body for software developers, I have a specific interest in cyber security. So much so that I’m a member of their CyberCop security panel.
I have carried out a lot of consultancy work over the years for clients who have had their email servers hacked. The effects can be catastrophic: clients have lost money, lost clients, or even entire businesses. This has led me to the realisation that the use of emails for confidential data must stop. It was time for an entirely new platform. So Alpha Legal was born.
TWP: How do you see cyber security affecting the legal services sector in the future and are firms equipped to deal with the challenges?
I don’t see cybersecurity as being this year’s problem or even this decade’s – it’s here to stay.
Criminals have already made the move from operating in the physical to the virtual world and I don’t see this changing, ever. The “new normal” is just that and all industries will need to take this to heart, especially the legal and financial sectors. I’ve got a 100 year-old safe in my house and we lost the key. It was deemed to be uncrackable when it was made but, with modern tools and techniques, a specialist locksmith cracked it in an hour. This is going to be the future of cybersecurity – a network or system deemed to be secure today may be hackable in minutes tomorrow. This is why all legal firms need to partner with specialists in this area to have peace of mind for themselves and their clients.
Robin Bennett is founder of Start Software and Alpha Legal