Monday, May 19, 2008

Software as a Service - Law as a Product

I was sat drafting a service agreement for the provision of a database service and noticed that there is a reciprocal change in attitudes to the way software and legal services are provided.

Software as a service is not a new concept but it requires a very different legal framework compared to your standard shrink-wrap or click-wrap licence agreements. Software as a service is nearly always a hosted service and therefore a click-wrap licence is required, normally with a service level agreement (ie what is the uptime and fix-time etc) rather than your normal product warranties and specification agreement. The Software Service agreement will not require a maintenance agreement as the supplier is the host and therefore maintains the servers etc. This avoids at least one legal agreement but, I believe, puts a lot more emphasis on the software service supply agreement and the warranties that are given under it.

Conversely, there is a move, in forward looking law firms, to "productise" their services and move away from the by the hour charges to fixed fee products. ie we will provide you with E-commerce terms and conditions for £[x]. This is obviously a world a way from the normal hourly rate basis but it can be seen to be making legal services or products more accessible, more transparent and more affordable. Transparency can be seen as a USP with law firms and this might repair the view that lawyers are "ambulance chasers". Transparency in the Software Industry can be equated to interoperability and API access and, I believe, this improving consumer relations. Therefore, these changes in supply, in the main, should be welcomed.

Unfortunately/Fortunately, depending on your point of view not all legal products will be capable of being productised and, at present, not all Software can be provided as a service.

What's next? Licence free software - oh I forgot we are already there : )

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