Affordable access to legal services with Answers-in-Law
By A. Asohan April 8, 2013
- Answers-in-Law is not a law firm and neither does it employ lawyers to provide legal services
- Facilitates access to legal advice, consultation and representation from law firms
MALAYSIANS will soon enjoy access to legal advice, consultation and court representation with the introduction of Answers-in-Law, which claims to be the first-of-its-kind legal expenses indemnity service here.
Designed to address the need for legal assistance amongst the general public, it will provide Malaysians with convenient and affordable access to legal services through a network of independent law firms across the country, Answers-in-Law said in a statement.
The business model is a bit unusual: You pay an annual subscription fee of RM299.99 for example, in the same way you would for an insurance plan -- that is to cover unforeseeable events.
“A simple comparison would be the medical benefits delivery system, which is based on the availability of insurance to cover the cost of medical consultation, treatment and medication,” Answers-in-Law founder Richard M. Devaraj (pic, left) told Digital News Asia (DNA) via email.
“Our services are made available to members who have signed up for our plans, which are for a duration of one year, and renewable annually. Our legal plans encompass legal advice, consultation and court representation. The plans are designed to cover a large extent of the average person’s legal needs at any given time,” he added.
The company said it offers an interactive legal directory service that assists subscribers in identifying a law firm that is available, accessible and in close proximity, to address their immediate needs.
Answers-in-Law is not a law firm and neither does it employ lawyers to provide legal services. It is merely a conduit that facilitates subscribers’ access to law firms that have registered their interest to participate in the program, indemnifying subscribers of the cost of the initial legal services extended by law firms participating in the program and chosen by subscribers, it added.
Answers-in-Law’s plans are available for Malaysian residents aged 18 years and above, through a choice of three plans -- Gold Eagle at RM999 per annum, Silver Eagle at RM459 per annum, and Green Eagle at RM299 per annum.
[RM1 = US$0.32]
The plans include services such as phone, web-chat and face-to-face consultation, court representation, document drafting and review, legal correspondence service, drafting of wills and Powers of Attorney, legal services for property transactions, and negotiation and mediation services.
“These plans are simply a way of organizing the delivery of quality legal services affordably through subscription,” said Devaraj. “We are able to keep the fees to a minimum in view of the annual subscription.”
“Our annual fee starts from RM299.99 for a bundle of services. Any one of these services by itself would cost more than RM299.99,” he said.
Currently, subscription plans are available for individuals aged 18 and above who are residing in Malaysia on a long-term basis. Answers-in-Law is targeting to launch other plans later this year, including the SME Plan on June 1 and the Tourist/ Non-Residents Plan on July 1, and the Students Plan is targeted for launch on Sept 1, Devaraj said.
“Plans catering to other demographics are targeted for launch during the last quarter of 2013,” he added.
Who you gonna call?
“The majority of Malaysians are at a loss when it comes to legal matters and also do not have sufficient information of their rights,” said Dato’ Sri Syed Zainal Abidin Syed Mohamed Tahir (pic above, right), chairman and partner of Answers-in-Law. Syed Zainal, incidentally is best known as the former CEO of Proton Bhd who quit in July 2012.
“They are reluctant to consult lawyers to clarify matters, often due to perceived high costs. They also tend to discuss these matters amongst themselves, leading to the spread of misinformation.
“… finding the right lawyer for foreseeable legal matters such as purchase of property, drafting and reviewing of legal documents, and writing of wills can already be stressful … in other less positive instances, such as suing for damages, divorce, or employment-related disputes, selecting a lawyer can be downright overwhelming.
“With Answers-in-Law, we want to ultimately assist Malaysians in making informed decisions,” he said.
Law firms in the Answers-in-Law network offer expertise in a wide range of areas including Banking & Finance, Insurance, Motor Vehicle Law, Family Law, Syariah Law, Employment & Workplace Relations, Professional Negligence, Sale & Purchase of Real Estate, Accidents & Personal Injuries, Bankruptcy & Insolvency, Consumer Protection, Tenancy, and Trusts, Wills & Probate Law.
“We currently have about 30 panel law firms, and the number is increasing,” Devaraj said. “Lawyers participating in our program must be or have been in practice for a minimum of eight years. “
He said that Answers-in-Law has at least three law firms specializing in each of the areas above. In terms of locations, seven are in Kuala Lumpur/ Selangor; three each in Johor, Penang and Perak; and two each in Kedah, Kelantan, Negeri Sembilan, Malacca, Pahang, Perlis and Terengganu.
Answers-in-Law does not have any lawyers on its staff, Devaraj said. Legal advice is provided by the company attorneys Feroz & Co, while day-to-day management is run by an eight-member team covering marketing and business development; customer service; ICT; finance and accounts; legal and corporate affairs; and human resources, admin and operations.
“The team will be expanding to 12 staff members in April,” he said, adding that the company is also pursuing the possibility of “branching into regional markets including Singapore and other Asian countries, either later this year or in 2014.”
Answers-in-Law is managed by a board of directors that provides hands-on support in growing and developing the services provided by the company, as well as facilitating collaborations with larger organizations, Devaraj said.
“The services provided by the company are overseen and governed by an Independent Monitoring & Advisory Council (IMAC) established to safeguard the interests of subscribers,” he added.
“The IMAC comprises past members of the judiciary and academia such as Abdul Aziz Mohamad and Abdul Kadir Sulaiman, both of whom are retired judges of the Federal Court; Selventhiranathan Thiagarajah, a retired judge of the Court of Appeal; and Beatrix Vohrah, a retired Professor of Law at UiTM.”
Detailed information on the directors can be accessed here; detailed information on the independent directors can be seen here; and detailed information on the IMAC members can be viewed here.
Answers-in-Law has a paid-up capital of RM500,000.00 consisting of 500,000 Ordinary Shares of RM1 each. More corporate information can be viewed here.
Answers-in-Law said it and its network of independent law firms are on hand to attend to queries from 9am to 5pm, Mondays to Fridays, not including public holidays. Subscribers can also phone or email Answers-In-Law or log in to its web-chat at any time and leave a message, which will be responded to within 24 hours on the next working day.
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