Congratulations to Paradigm Shift Solutions, #6 in 2011's Most Innovative Companies in B.C.
When Chilwin Cheng and his partner Jim Hamlin, a web developer, founded Paradigm Shift Solutions in 2008, they set out to build websites that provide the raw ingredients of legal services without the cost of actual lawyers. Cheng, a lawyer himself who left private practice for an MBA, explains the concept with a food metaphor: “You can make pasta at home with some olive oil and tomato sauce, you can go to Milestone’s and pay something like $12 for a pasta dish, then you can go to a really high-end restaurant. But when it comes to law, you don’t have the option of eating in.”
Rather than compete with law firms, Cheng says, Paradigm Shift expands the market for legal services by making answers to very basic legal questions affordable. Firedwithoutcause.com, the company’s first service, lets users who feel they’ve been wrongfully dismissed submit the details of their situation to the software, which searches previous relevant cases and provides a report that helps them to determine the viability of a potential suit and how much severance might be expected. At $59, it costs a little more than some olive oil and tomato sauce, but it’s a steal compared to the bill you’d get from anyone with the letters LL.B. after their name.
Paradigm Shift’s business is based on the assumption that lots of people who would never bring their case to a human legal expert will see good value in using its software. That’s why the innovation in this product isn’t that Cheng and Hamlin have found a cheaper way to a more litigious B.C.; it’s that they’re helping to solve a worsening problem of limited access to justice. As one of our panellists points out, “Our society is based on all parties being able to afford access to legal advice, but for many, the cost is prohibitive.” And even if the provision of good advice, as a service, remains expensive, in the age of Google there’s no reason for legal information, as a product, to cost any more than 60 bucks.
Paradigm Shift’s latest site, the recently launched contracttailor.com, is another empowering tool for anyone interested in saving money on basic legal services. Cheng says it’s designed for firms to let their clients easily fashion bespoke documents with the firm’s own content and a little hand-holding from a pro. The value added by a good lawyer is in determining which documents are needed and other higher functions, not in drafting the language.
The central innovation at the heart of all of Paradigm Shift’s sites is the idea that software can break lawyers’ monopoly on the raw ingredients of good legal advice, forcing the humans to add real value with insight and experience. Our panellists were most excited about this subversion of “gatekeepers” that exploit limited access to information. It’s an axiom of the early Internet that’s no less true today: information wants to be free. Or at least $59.