Dammam, Asharq Al-Awsat – Saudi legal personnel have revealed that the majority of clients seeking legal consultations on the internet are women; approximately 80 percent. This is attributed to a number of reasons, including social and psychological circumstances; the most important of which is the reservation that comes with sharing personal information, in addition to the need to find out legal information anonymously and with utmost discretion.
Dr. Osama Bikharji, the lawyer and legal advisor who owns the website ‘muhamoon online’ (lawyers online) told Asharq Al-Awsat that the fact that women comprise the largest proportion of clients seeking online legal advice is what compelled him to focus his study on Saudi women’s need for privacy, as opposed to men, a fact that he ascribes to social reasons.
“Most Saudi women prefer to not consult in legal offices; they don’t prefer to meet in a lawyer’s personal office,” he said.
With regards to the nature of the advice and queries that the women focus on, Bikharji disclosed, “Most of the legal issues for women are related to personal status, followed by queries about business transactions and questions about small- and medium-sized business systems.” He believes that this is largely due to the Saudi women’s dynamic entry into the world of business and projects, which has created a great need to find out more about laws and regulations, he said.
Thamer al Sikhan agrees with him. The owner of a legal and consultation firm in Jeddah, he told Asharq Al-Awsat in a phone interview that most of the women’s questions revolve around personal status issues and matters related to business problems, the latter of which al Sikhan reveals represents the majority of the advice sought by men. He also pointed out that many of the clients on free online legal consultation websites have modest incomes and cannot afford to pay 500 Saudi Riyals (approximately US $134) for a legal consultation.
Al Sikhan explains the volume of Saudi women seeking legal advice online as, “I believe this stems from its easy nature and because it is a fast means. Instead of a woman going over to a law firm and paying for a consultation, she can visit 10 websites, most of which offer free consultations, and get 10 legal opinions.”
He added that what distinguishes this method is the fact that questions can be direct and specific, which he believes is useful in giving women a lot of information and ideas before embarking on any business endeavor.
With regards to the compensation that lawyers can expect when providing free legal advice via the internet, al Sikhan who volunteers to provide free consultations said that these services aim to “disseminate legal awareness amongst the members of society.”
He added that the free legal consultations increase the number of visitors to the website, which is what many lawyers are keen upon since it also makes the lawyers’ names known amongst their clients and online visitors. Al Sikhan believes that this best serves a segment of society with a limited income.
Meanwhile, Bikharji believes that this step that was recently adopted by Saudi lawyers has been beneficial to a particular segment in society and especially for the women. In terms of the security measures taken to protect personal information, Bikharji confirmed that his website practiced confidentiality and was cautious to protect personal data ensuring that it was secure. He also affirmed that all legal advice is provided by a team of qualified experts who specialize in various fields, furthermore pointing out that the fees for such consultations, if any, are usually modest and reasonable.
However, legal personnel have raised concerns about seeking legal advice from unidentified parties through websites or internet forums, stressing the importance of only dealing with licensed lawyers who are affiliated to the Saudi Ministry of Justice. This is to avoid the exploitation of clients’ personal information and secure it against illegal leaking that could be detrimental to the clients.
It is worth noting that the legal departments on such websites include, Shariah, commercial, administrative, criminal, and personal status law. Moreover, the legal aspects include the requirements needed to set up Saudi- or mixed- businesses and the issuance of permits necessary for all businesses, whether commercial, industrial or services, in addition to drafting and reviewing contracts.
Online legal counseling varies from free of charge to a range of fees that are paid on a monthly or fixed-annual basis, or regular charges at the end of sessions.