Transforming the Co-op wills service by combining legal expertise and digital skills

I’m James Antoniou, I head up the wills team at Co-op Legal Services. Over the last 10 months or so, me and my team of will writers have been working closely with James Boardwell’s team of digital specialists at Co-op Digital. Both teams wanted to make it simpler and faster to create a legally robust will for Co-op customers and by combining legal expertise and digital skills we’ve done just that.

Joanne Schofield wrote about how making a will can be daunting and how we’re trying to change that and more recently Becky Arrowsmith wrote about how we’ve improved the accessibility in our wills.

This is the first time I’ve worked alongside a digital team but I don’t think it’ll be the last. Here are my thoughts on it.

James: We looked at doing a fully online, end-to-end, digital service. I had a lot of reservations in that, and I think probably most lawyers would do, because they couldn’t see how a computer could be a substitute for 15 years’ worth of experience. So the way we built the service was as a hybrid between being able to take the benefits of the accessibility of starting online, but also making sure that everyone who went through the service took advice to make sure that what they were looking to do was, in fact, having the right legal impact of what they were actually looking to achieve.

So the digital way of working is something that was very new to me. I think as… as a solicitor you are… you’re working in an environment where you’re expected to know the answers, all the time. And coming into the digital environment, it was more about learning, and putting things to users and understanding what they’re telling us, rather than us telling them what they should know.

So, I think legal services and digital; I think it’s… it’s the future. I think it’s the way that legal services are going to be delivered mainstream, over the next sort of probably 5 to 10 years. I think at the moment there is limited routes to that online market. I think that plenty have tried and failed perhaps cos they’ve been offered a wholly digital service as opposed to a service where you get the benefits of the digital channel but it’s also backed up by some robust legal guidance and advice. And I think it’s that hybrid which is where the… the future of legal services lie; because it’s not just about accessibility, it’s about making sure that… that the right advice is being given. And secondly, and probably more importantly, that the customer feels that they are getting the service that’s of value to them and that they’re prepared to pay for it, and they feel that they’re protected, and that it’s something that is going to meet their needs.

Go to coop.co.uk/wills and find out more.

Wills Alpha

A small multi-disciplinary team at the Co-op have been working to rethink Wills. Mike promised at the AGM that we would talk openly about what we’ve done. This is a post about our 10 weeks working on an ‘Alpha’ prototype and what we’ve learned.

Wills are interesting

I never thought I’d be writing those words but Wills are interesting.

Over half the population die without a Will and these people don’t get a say over what happens to their property, possessions and children when they die. No Will means a mess for family and friends to clear up at a time of stress. At best this leads to confusion and at worse family breakdown.

And even though people know a Will is worth doing and most people say they’ll get round to it, procrastination is normal. In other words, what people say they’ll do and what people actually do are completely different.

Why do people do that?

Part of the reason behind this apathy is that people don’t like to think about their own death – which is understandable, but there are other factors too.

Most people do not understand the language and concepts used in a Will.  Even those people that sit down and think “I’m going to do this” end up baffled by, and lost in legalese. They start the process, then stop when they come up against a barrier.

Then there’s the practicalities. Overwhelmingly people want to speak to someone to get advice and the reassurance that they’ve done it right. Usually that means trips to the local solicitor’s office, maybe some time off work, form filling, and a couple of hundred pounds for a document that gathers dust in the filing cabinet upstairs. That doesn’t feel like a good use of people’s time.

These make for some really interesting service design challenges and there’s a lot that can be improved about Wills. By applying the culture, practices, processes and technologies of the Internet-era we hope to do just that.

Wills Blog Image

10 people, 10 weeks to build an Alpha

For the last 10 weeks a small team of developers, designers, lawyers and user researchers were given space to explore Wills. We used agile ways of working to build an early prototype version (an Alpha) and test it with real people.

Mobile screen shot of Wills alpha

Mobile screen shot of Wills alpha

Mobile screen shot of Wills alpha

Mobile screen shot of Wills alpha

 

The purpose of creating an Alpha is to learn about the problem space, learn how to work together as a team, test our assumptions and to build confidence in delivery.

Designing for humans

Every two weeks we delivered working software and put it in front of six or seven people (in the market for a Will and not connected to the Co-op) to observe what they did with it. We asked them questions like “what do you think happens next?” and where we reached the edges of what we’d built we used paper prototypes or mocked-up service.

This helped us better understand people’s actual needs, fears and motivations – even when they were only using a partially developed service. Our user research taught us things that we would have missed had we specified a solution up-front. For example, we learned:

  • People want advice when they need it. They want a Will that is right for them, not just any Will. This may seem obvious, but it is visceral and trumps convenience. People want to talk it through and in this respect, conversations are reassuring and remove some of the fear of Wills.
  • Some people want a Will immediately, others want to go away and think about something or ask some questions. In other words the service needs to be designed to go at people’s own pace.
  • People’s expectations have changed. People no longer understand why they can’t update a Will when they want to, or why it is such a long winded process described in arcane terminology. People want the process to be robust but also more modern and accessible and for it to change as their lives change.

Onwards to Beta

Agile ways of working allow teams and businesses to experiment with new service ideas quickly and cheaply without needing to specify the problem and the solution up front (you can’t and you shouldn’t) or needing to commit to plans based on big, up-front assumptions. Our sponsors gave a small multi-disciplinary team a problem to solve and allowed us the space to work it out.  They empowered a team to learn and experiment. This means happier team and we think, better product.

We’ve now been given permission to develop a public Beta of the Co-op Wills service so you’ll hear more about this in the next few months.  We’ll share more about that as we go along.

Jamie Arnold