Local startup wants to revolutionize legal profession in PH

Do you know that the top legal topic on Facebook is about marriage and the grounds for its annulment? If you visit Internet forums, Facebook groups and Facebook pages, you will encounter all sorts of outrageous discussions about politics, religion, and fashion.

In these exchanges, most interpretations of the law — especially from the netizens — are either absolutely amusing or utterly incorrect. This may be due to their eagerness to get an easy way out of their legal problems or the lack of appreciation and understanding of legal concepts.

One of the most outrageous assertions involve debt. Most netizens say that “walang nakukulong sa utang.” (Nobody goes to prison for not paying debts.) This despite the fact that many swindlers and conmen have gone to jail.

Outrageous and erroneous legal concepts spread like wildfire on the Internet and it’s been there since the advent of emails and Yahoo groups, Internet forums, and Facebook pages.

What is perplexing is these erroneous interpretations of the law have been shared over and over again on the internet. But it’s not just about debt. It’s also about laws about marriage and the grounds for annulment.

There are so many incorrect and outrageous grounds for annulment of marriage invented or being discussed by netizens in the Internet. These include:

1.) Marriage contracts have expiration periods;
2.) A marriage is void if there is no marriage contract;
3.) Husband and wife can end their marriage by only signing an agreement;
4.) One can remarry if there is no communication/abandonment for 7 years;
5.) A marriage is not valid if the parents did not attend the wedding or sign the marriage contract;
6.) A marriage is void if there is wrong spelling or different names of the parties in their marriage contracts;
7.) A court will automatically void the marriage if the other party was caught having an affair;
8.) One can get married again if his/her first marriage is void;
9.) A person cannot be jailed for bigamy if his/her spouse already agreed not to file a case; and
10.) Marriage is no longer effective if the other party tore, burned, or destroyed their marriage contract.

Legal advice for Filipinos abroad

As we all know, the Philippines has more than 10 million migrant workers scattered all over the world. With the Filipino diaspora, there is a demand for legal services for the legal issues left behind by our migrant workers such as marriage, support and custody issues, inheritance, investments, among others. Also, we have so many SMEs needing legal guidance from lawyers.

The lack of online facilities to help our OFWs and SMEs in solving their legal problems was the prime motivation Marlon P. Valderama, to put up LexMeet, a startup legal tech company in the Philippines and a pioneer of Philippine e-lawyering.

A lawyer by profession, Valderama started his legal career in the Office of the Solicitor General but soon shifted to private practice. He worked in a law firm for 11 years but on his 12th year, he decided to open his own law office and engage in e-lawyering.

“E-lawyering” means a secure, professional method of delivering legal services online that is accessible to the client and the attorney anywhere they can access the Internet. The use of an online client portal allows for the initiation of the attorney/client relationship through to completion and payment for legal services.” (Stephanie Kimbro, Esq., MA, JD)

At first, Valderama was helping out relatives and friends abroad to solve their legal problem either in person, by phone, text, chat and email messages but he wanted to do a more systematic way of serving the public online.

However, at that time, there were no online facilities to avail the services of a lawyer.

In 2010, when he established his own law firm, he tried to bridge that gap by launching E-Lawyers Online, his virtual law firm and e-lawyering platform, wherein Filipino, migrant worker or otherwise, can register and seek legal advice online complete with an appointment system and an online payment gateway.

With its success, he was motivated to share the benefits of e-lawyering with his fellow lawyers in the Philippines as well as in different part of the world, so he created LexMeet.

Uber for lawyers

LexMeet is a real-time online legal consultation platform, a Web space where lawyers and clients meet to solve legal problems. It is like the Uber of lawyers, where a client can seek a lawyer’s advice by a mere computer click.

Instead of a Uber vehicle matching with the nearest rider, LexMeet is where client’s legal problem is matched with the lawyer’s expertise, location, and language and serve as a bridge for them to meet via video conference.

Since its soft-launch last December 2017 and with very minor marketing efforts, LexMeet already has 2,562 clients, mostly OFWs and SMEs and 58 lawyers. Overseas Filipino workers are LexMeet’s niche market but the platform is also focusing on foreign investors who want to do business in the Philippines as well as expatriates.

The firm is also targeting micro, small-medium enterprises where lawyers can offer affordable legal service without the hazzle of retaining them regularly. Today, time, distance and money is no longer an issue to SMEs when it comes to getting legal advice.

LexMeet: A catchy name with a lawyerly appeal.

With its catchy name LexMeet, as it rhymes with “Let’s Meet”, it is now becoming the online go-to-place by OFWs and SMEs. It all started when Valderama requested a brainstorming session with his co-founders.

Every so often, he texted them so many times — “Come on, let’s meet!, Let’s start this thing!” — to the point where they were really annoyed by it. One day, when he saw the text messages that he sent, he realized that he had stumbled upon the company name. They tweaked it to have a more “lawyerly” appeal by making it “lex” instead of “let’s”. After all, “Lex” in Latin means law or related to legal matters.

Meanwhile, the LexMeet logo features two hands — one in red representing the lawyer and the other in green representing the client. The two shaking hands form a gavel, which indicates it is a legal meeting. LexMeet is a legal meeting online.

LexMeet allows clients and lawyers to register on the website for free.

When clients have legal problems, they submit them using the LexMeet forms by providing in advance the lawyers, their story, objectives, and questions as well as the supporting documents they have. Clients need to load minimum credits (P500.00) in order to access LexMeet Lawyer’s List and select lawyer from there. Clients may load either by Paypal or Dragonpay payment gateway inside the website.

LexMeet has a lawyer-client matching algorithm that provides the client the right lawyer for him/her in terms of specialization, location, and language relevant to his/her submitted legal problem.

Once the client selects a lawyer and the latter accepted the same, they meet either via video conference or call conference.

During their online conference, client’s credits are automatically deducted and credited to lawyer’s account until the former used up all of the credits or one of them hangs up. There is also a feedback mechanism wherein clients can rate the lawyers they selected.

LexMeet is now rolling out their mobile application and hopefully will be available in the middle of 2018.

Once available, the app “will really revolutionize the legal tech industry,” Valderrama said. “We are gearing to be the largest meeting place of lawyers and clients all over the world and marketplace of all things about legal.”

He added: “We hope that LexMeet will be seamless for both clients and lawyers and they will be able to interact productively using technology. It is because, as they say in LexMeet, it is where technology meets legal practice.”

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