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Archive for the ‘LegalZoom’ Category

Rejoinder: "Is the Virtual Law Model Coming up Short?"

24 Sep

Jay Fleischman in a blog post entitled: “Is the Virtual Law Firm Model Coming up Short?”  states:

"The ABA elawyering Task Force tells us that, “[t]o be successful in the coming era, lawyers will need to know how to practice over the Web, manage client relationships in cyberspace, and ethically offer “unbundled” services.”

Bull—t.

Jay also states:

"Email doesn’t substitute for a phone call.  A phone call isn’t the replacement for a handshake."

"Those who offer the virtual law firm are selling something most people don’t want.  People want to be able to make a personal connection with other people, to build trust in a lawyer’s expertise.  They don’t want to be met with a password-encrypted firewall and triple-redundant backup systems.".

Unfortunately, like some commentators of a well known news network that make up facts and then offers opinions based on those false assumptions, Jay makes up facts to support his point of view.

Jay is entitled to opinion, but not to his own set of facts.

Here are some of the facts:

1. The ABA/LPM’s eLawyering Task Force

The eLawyering Task Force , of which I am co-chair (with Marc Lauritsen), through it’s web site, publications, and statements has never made the claim that delivering legal services online was the only way that law firms should  connect with clients. The value of an online platform depends on the kind of law practice and the kind of clients served. Clients obviously have preferences that lawyers who serve those clients must respect.

Many firms will have a "virtual component" incorporated into a traditional practice. As Marc Lauritsen puts it,  there will be:

" a shared online environment that is persistent across the life of a matter. For instance, providing interactive questionnaires on their web sites to gather information from prospects and clients, or supplying do-it-yourself document generators, checklists, or calculators.Or opening up a shared space for collaborative deliberation about a particular decision, using interactive visualizations like I ‘ve been promoting under by ‘choiceboxing" idea."

In fact, the firms that are getting the most successful results from the addition of a client portal are those that have a traditional practice and who add an interactive online component. 

We know this from the analysis that we have done from observing over 200 law firms that have subscribed to our DirectLaw virtual law firm service during the past two years. We have also learned why some law firms fail to successfully implement an online strategy. We also know that some lawyers have an unrealistic expectation of what it takes to be successful as a "pure play" virtual law firm.

To read the results of our analysis download our White Paper on Virtual Law Firms: Success Factors.

Also see these blog posts on this topic: Online Legal Services: Is it Hype or a New Way of Delivering Legal Services?;  Framing the Discussion About Virtual Law Firm Practice; and Defining the Virtual Law Firm .

2.    Affordable Legal Service and Access to the Legal System

The work of the eLawyering Task Force has always focused on identifying ways in which lawyers can become more productive and efficient by using the Internet as platform for the delivery of legal services and ways in which clients can benefit from the use of Internet technologies in terms of the fees they pay for legal services.

President Bill Paul of the American Bar Association, who created the Task Force, had the idea that through the use of Internet technologies it would be possible to lower the cost of legal fees to make the legal system more accessible to those who cannot afford typical attorney fees.

Instead, rather than the legal profession responding to this challenge, we see the emergence of companies like LegalZoom, SmartLegalForms, CompleteCase, LegacyWriter, Nolo, and the dozens of other non-lawyer internet-based legal solution providers who are responding to the need of consumers  for a ":good enough" legal result at the lowest possible cost. For millions of moderate and middle class consumers the purchasing of traditional high cost legal services delivered on a one to one basis is no longer an option. Their choice is to do the best they can with a legal solution provided by a non-lawyer provider, (which now may be a court or an online legal aid provider).

Jay seems to imply that if a client can’t afford the profession’s legal fees, then so be it.  Who cares?

Bring me The MoneyMy opinion is that it will be harder to justify the profession’s monopoly on the delivering of legal services when it only serves a tiny portion of the US population.

The reality is that many of us didn’t become lawyers just for the money. We want to serve people and help them with resolve their legal problems. Now there are technologies that can help us do that in a cost effective way and expand the market for legal services.  We shouldn’t ignore these technologies, just because we are not practicing law like the last generation of lawyers.

3.  The "Secure Client Portal" Concept":

Examples of Internet based applications range from web enabled document automation, to paying legal bills online, to the provision of written legal advice online, to simply storing the clients legal documents online so they can be referenced later. All of these functions require that the client have access to a secure client portal within which these functions can take place.

It is indisputable that a secure client portal is necessary for secure and confidential activities and tasks between to take place between lawyer and client. This doesn’t mean that a lawyer should not use email to provide confidential legal advice which I am sure happens all of the time, at whatever the risks.

On the other hand, it is not possible to pay your legal fee by credit card using email, and I have yet to see a web enabled document assembly solution being delivered through email. For legal work to be done securely online requires a secure client portal.

It us for this reason that the eLawyering Task Force included, as part of the definition of  what constitutes a virtual law practice, that the firm make available to its clients a secure client portal. This seems very obvious to us. Communicating with clients using a mobile phone and by email, is not the same thing as using legal applications online that do legal tasks.

Most people use some form of a secure portal everyday. We do our banking online, our stock brokerage online, buy insurance online, book travel online. It’s not rocket science. Except that right now the legal profession is lagging behind every other service industry in the economy in its use of interactive web technology. According to Jay, we should stay where we are and eschew these web technologies. In my opinion, we do so at our peril.

4. Web-Enabled Document Automaton.

Jay seems to think that the use of a web enabled document automation application is not in a clients interest and has little value, or that client’s don’ t want "just forms."  (It is hard to really know what he believes because of the confused logic that is used to support his argument). 

I think he is wrong about this. He can read our White Paper on Web-Enabled Document Automation as A Disruptive Technology and these blog posts: Document Automaton as a Disruptive Technology  and What Every Lawyer Should Know About Document Assembly.

5  The Legal Profession is Losing Market Share.

Solos and small law firms, with existing methods of delivering legal services, are pricing themselves out of the middle class marketplace. This is the real reason that LegalZoom is rumored to be generating more than 100 million in revenues this year.  LegalZoom and other non-lawyer providers continue to increase their market share at the expense of solos and small law firms.  The assertion that lawyers don’t need the people as clients that purchase forms from non-lawyer providers is a misrepresentation of what is really happening in the solo and small law firm marketplace. The clients that are turning away from law firms are clients that law firms need and who they previously served in an earlier, pre-Internet era.

6.     eLawyering Applications are Not Just Tools.

It is not accurate to see state that eLawyering applications are just "tools". In fact they are can be disruptive of the typical law firm business model.  If a consumer can get the result that they want by using a Internet-based legal solution, or "digital legal application" at a fraction of the cost of using an attorney, many will opt for that "good enough" solution. What is important to the consumer, is the legal result, not the fact that they have to go to an attorney to get it.

7.    A  New Generation of Clients is Coming Who Don’t Like to Talk on the Phone or Shake Hands With Their Lawyers.

It’s is true that many clients are not interested in working with their lawyers online, but we think that as a connected generation comes of age and they have legal problems that they will prefer to deal with their lawyers online and prefer to text rather than even talk on the telephone, much less meet with their attorney face-to-face, unless it is unavoidable.  For facts to support this assertion, see books like New Rules of Engagement: Understanding on How to Connect With Generation Y. and the work of Christine Hassler.

In a study conducted last year by YouGov, a UK-based research and opinion firm,  on consumer preferences for legal services, one of the conclusions was that:

"34% of respondents said they would be more likely to choose a law firm that offered the convenience of online access to legal documents over one that had no online capability; 22% disagreed and 37% neither agreed nor disagreed."

 Younger males were the most likely to choose a law firm with online services and access: 44% of 25-to-39 year-old males (and 40% of such women), along with 40% of 16-to-24 year-old males, would choose a law firm offering online access to documents over another law firm."

There is obviously a generational shift happening.  As a younger generation matures to the age where they have legal problems, their desire to deal with lawyers online becomes a requirement, not a preference.

Summary

These are serious issues for the legal profession. The American Bar Association Legal Technology Resource Center reported last year in one of its technology surveys of the legal profession that only 52% of solo practitioners have a web site. That means that almost half of solo practitioners don’t even have a web site. Is it that these practitioners are making so much money that they don’t have to even have a presence on the web? Or are we as a profession so out of touch with contemporary trends, that we will have to race even faster to catch up?

Neaderthal Man = Legal ProfessionSo where are we on this spectrum of evolution? Are we still stuck in Web 1.0 with brochure web sites, or are we evolving to interactive web sites that connect with clients who will want to work with their lawyers online or are we still stuck in Internet circa 2002?

Let’s expand this discussion, so that lawyers, particularly solos and small law firms, can figure out how to utilize these new technologies to expand and sustain their law practices in an environment that will become increasing competitive. 

Disruptive web legal services such as AttorneyFee.com, Law Pivot,  LegalZoom, are not going away. They will expand and proliferate. The "new normal" is here.

 

Another Disruption: AttorneyFee.com

21 Sep

The legal profession has witnessed the rise of new players that are disruptive of existing patterns of law practice.

First came LegalZoom, AVVO, TotalAttorneys, Rocketlawyer, MyLawyer (our company), and Law Pivot, disrupters that are having an impact on the way legal services are identified and delivered to the broad middle class.

Now comes AttorneyFee.com that holds promise of making legal fees more transparent.

For many years I have been critical of the fact that lawyers charge widely differing legal fees for the same work. In a study I was involved at the University of Maryland Law school some years ago, we discovered that for simple family law actions, such as a no-fault divorce, lawyers would charge any where from $500.00 to $3,000.00 for essentially the same work. This variation in legal fees for the same work tasks is another cause of the distrust that the average consumer has of the legal profession.

AttorneyFee.com is a welcome development for law firms that are already experimenting with fixed fee legal services delivered online. Law firms that are using online delivery technology will in fact have a competitive advantage over law firms that use higher cost productive methods. Sites like AttorneyFee.com expand the reach of these firms by giving them another channel to advertise their fee information to consumers.

I registered my Maryland virtual law firm at AttorneyFee.com yesterday. I found the interface to be clean and simple and the registration process easy.

My only criticism was that there was no field to display a law firm’s web address — only an email address and a telephone number. This means that an interested prospect will have to contact the law firm to get more information by phone or email, without the opportunity of easily clicking through to the law firm’s web site.

In my case, the page describing the pricing of my services does not provide enough information to the consumer about the scope of my services. There is no place to indicate that we offer "limited legal services" for pro se parties exclusively. For a new company that prides itself on transparency, this feature is less than transparent.

Moreover, when my firm comes up, a form also pops up that enables the prospect to ask for a free consultation. Except in our case, we don’t provide free consultations. Since we sell a legal advice service by the question for a modest flat fee, offering a "free consultation" is not consistent with our business model. 

When I asked Robert Komaiko, one of the co-founders of AttorneyFee about these issues, he said they have other features planned for the site but they felt it was important to launch the site, get feedback, learn, and revise. As a believer in the lean startup method of starting a company, which is now all the rage in Silicon Valley, I agreed with Robert that it was important to get the concept launched and to work out the kinks later. There is certainly enough benefits and features already built into the site to see if this concept gets any traction. Better to launch the service , get feedback, and revise, as opposed to waiting for a year, adding every feature imaginable, and then discovering that consumers have no interest in the service.

AttorneyFee  using a proprietary search technology,has already  listed the prices that over 20,000 law firms are charging on their web sites.  The company plans to have over 70,000 law firm sites indexed within a relatively short period of time. This information alone will provide a useful consumer resource for comparing fees charged by law firms for similar tasks.

Some lawyers are bound to be critical of this web service as it is another indication of the commercialization of the legal profession but as Beibei Que, the other co-founder of AttorneyFee, and its CEO, told me: 

We have all known that this moment was coming for a long time.  The profession can no longer limp along with one foot in the for-profit economy and another in a quasi-clergy role.  If we wish to reap the benefits of the for-profit economy, we must be prepared to comport ourselves like private market actors, and this means not retreating from conversations about price or concealing them behind closed doors.

AttorneyFee.com is a welcome addition to the family of new disrupters shaking the legal profession to its core.

download-our-whitepaper-on-virtual-lawye

 

Is It Time To Deregulate the Practice of Law?

23 Aug

An editorial appeared in today’s (08/22/2011) Wall St. Journal , titled "Time to Deregulate the Practice of Law", by Clifford Winston and Robert W. Crandell, both Fellows at the Brookings Institution. [ Ungated version here ]. The editorial argues that it is time for the legal profession to be deregulated, as other industries have been, in order to create price competition for legal services, spur innovation in the delivery of legal services, and reduce the premium that lawyers get for pricing their services as a result of strict occupational licensing. The editorial is a summary of the conclusions of a book soon to be published by the authors, and Vikram Maheshri, titled, "First Thing We Do, Let’s Deregulate All the Lawyers" (2011, Brookings Press). This book is the opening salvo it what is sure to be an expanded debate about who should be allowed to provide legal services to the general public.

New Methods of Legal Service Delivery

With online companies such as LegalZoom, RocketLawyer, JustAnswer, LawBidding, Law Pivot and our own MyLawyer.com, pushing the boundaries of new ways to delivery of legal services,  there is renewed pressure on the organized bar to respond to consumer demand for affordable, transparent, competent, and reliable legal services. Law firms are exploring ways to delivery legal services online to compete with non-lawyer providers, but are often constrained by bar regulations.

Free White Paper: Virtual Law Practice; Success FactorsEssentially, the authors argue that lowering the barriers to entry into the legal profession would force lawyers to compete more intensely with each other, and  face competition from non-lawyers and firms not owned and managed by lawyers. The authors argue that legal fees are higher  because of occupational licensing and can be reduced by deregulation without sacrificing the quality of legal services.

Since heading the Philadelphia Institute for Paralegal Training, the nation’s first paralegal school and the institution that pioneered the paralegal profession in the United States,  I have argued that you don’t need a fully-trained and credentialed attorney to provide services to consumers for simpler, more routine legal problems, any more than you would need a brain surgeon to treat a headache, when a pharmacist will do. I am well aware of arguments that some lawyers make that there are no simple legal problems, but the reality is that many consumers will settle  for a "good enough" result, rather than spend thousands of dollars in legal fees.

On the other hand I am not comfortable with the idea that we should abandon all occupational licensing for legal professionals, lawyers and legal assistants, essentially converting the United States in a completely unregulated free market.

 

Arguments for a Regulated Legal Profession

1. The analogy between the legal profession to other deregulated industries, such as the airline industry, that the authors cite, is simply not relevant. There is fundamental differences between the manufacturing, mining, communication, transportation, and financial industries and the human service professions where the delivery of the service is expected to be of sufficient competence to accomplish the task at hand. If you follow the author’s logic, we should also deregulate the dentists, the teachers, the nurses, the social workers, and the doctors because it results in lower pricing and therefore would increase the availability of those services. e.g., Instead of going to a "Dentist" to get your root canal work, you would have the option of going to the "Tooth Fairy."

2. The authors assume that the quality of legal services would not deteriorate any more than when the planes didn’t stop flying when the airline industry was deregulated. Unfortunately the authors have no facts to back up this assertion. It is just wishful thinking.

3. When you look at the facts, however,  a more thoughtful response to reforming the delivery system for legal services is required.

On the anecdotal level, I can testify to the literally hundreds of botched legal matters that I have reviewed generated by "Immigration Specialists", Legal Technicians" and other non-lawyers operating in the grey area of offering document preparation services. In some instances, I have seen immigrants actually deported because of improperly prepared papers by "Immigration Specialists." I have reviewed "failure to discharge notices"  issued by U.S. Bankruptcy Court because of improperly prepared bankruptcy petitions. I have reviewed dozens of divorce petitions filed by "pro-se" parties, assisted by online document preparation companies that were rejected by the courts. I have seen enough of these cases to know that in many of these situations  incompetence and lack of knowledge and skill is evident. In some cases there is outright fraud and misrepresentation.

4. There have been almost no empirical studies that I know of that support the argument of the authors that the quality of legal services would not deteriorate in a completely deregulated marketplace – save one- and that study does not support the author’s conclusions.

Legal Services Consumer Panel Study

Very recently the Legal Services Consumer Panel of the Legal Services Board in the United Kingdom, the agency in charge of deregulating the legal profession in the United Kingdom, conducted an empirical study of the quality of wills prepared by both solicitors and non-lawyers.

 

The Panel concluded that on the issue of quality:

 "one in four wills in the shadow shops were failed with more than one in three of all assessments scoring either poor or very poor. The same proportion of wills prepared by solicitors and will-writing companies were failed. Wills were almost just as likely to fail when the client had simple or complex circumstances. Key problems where the will was not legally valid or did not meet the client’s stated requirements, were: inadequate treatment of the client’s needs; the client’s requests not being met; potentially illegal actions; inconsistent or contradictory language; insufficient detail; and poor presentation. Key problems relating to poor advice include: cutting and pasting of precedents; unnecessary complexity; and use of outdated terminology."

The United Kingdom has a legal market which is not only more deregulated that the US market, but will become even more deregulated in the future. Despite this more open environment, the Panel concluded that:

"Inherent features of will-writing services place consumers at risk of detriment. Consumers lack the knowledge to identify technical problems or assess whether the additional services offered are necessary or represent good value for money. The reliance on extracting good information about the consumer‟s circumstances and preferences, combined with the range of possible ways to deal with these in the will, means there is potentially wide scope to give bad advice."

and

"However, there is a need to make consumers better aware of the suitability of online services as these received the highest proportion of fail marks in the shadow shopping, but wills sold over the internet are difficult to regulate."

Thus, the Panel proposes that:

"will-writing services should be made a reserved legal activity. Any business – not just a solicitors firm – satisfying an approved regulator‟s entry standards could provide will-writing services."

The UK approach is not to restrict will-writing just to lawyers, but to open up the system to any providers that can satisfy the educational, regulatory, and accountability standards within the reserved activity. This is a vastly different approach than eliminating standards all together, as the authors seem to suggest.

The compete UK Report on Regulating Will Writing can be downloaded here. See also our Resource Page on Regulation of the Legal Profession.  The Report is worth reading by any policy maker who is thinking about doing away with all regulation of the providers of legal services to the general public.

Some final thoughts:

The authors claims of the benefits of deregulation in general are not supported by current evidence.

Consider:

  • Deregulation of the mortgage baking industry brought the American economy to its knees;
  • Deregulation of the US banking industry has wreaked havoc on the world’s economy;
  • Lack of strong regulation of the proprietary higher education industry has resulted in thousands of graduates without an adequate education, low employment rates, and high default rates. (Of course, as the author’s point out, you could say the same about law schools and law school graduates, but then again the accreditation of law schools by the American Bar Association, it can be argued is another example of an "unregulated activity" without substantive standards that are meaningful).

The list can go on.

Perhaps I am premature in my judgment as the book has not been released, and I have just reviewed the salient conclusions. I can’t wait to give it a full read and review.

 

 

Is Legal Software Conduct? True or False?

09 Aug

Legal Software Program On August 2, 2011, Federal District Judge Nanette K. Laughrey, for the Western District of Missouri, the Judge presiding over the class action case against LegalZoom for unauthorized practice of law, released an opinion denying, in part, Defendant’s Motion of Summary Judgment. The Court held that document preparation by non-lawyers, under Missouri Law, is conduct, and not entitled to First Amendment protection. ( See full opinion here ).

This is consistent with my own view, expressed in a previous post. (Is LegalZoom just a self help legal software company?).

The court’s opinion rejects the logic in an article authored by Professor Catherine J. Lanctot, titled, "Does LegalZoom Have First Amendment Rights: Some Thoughts About Freedom of Speech and the Unauthorized Practice of Law." , which doesn’t surprise me, as it is hard to characterize LegalZoom’s activities as "speech", when they have 500 employees working on customer’s documents.

One paragraph in the Court’s opinion is troubling. On Page 21, the Opinion states as follows:

"Furthermore, LegalZoom’s branching computer program is created by a LegalZoom employee using Missouri law.  It is that human input that creates the legal document. A computer sitting at a desk in California cannot prepare a legal document without a human programming it to fill in the document using legal principles derived from Missouri law that are selected for the customer based on the information provided by the customer. There is little or no difference between this and a lawyer in Missouri asking a client a series of questions and then preparing a legal document based on the answers provided and applicable Missouri law. That the Missouri lawyer may also give legal advice does not undermine the analogy because legal advice and document preparation are two different ways in which a person engages in the practice of law. "

…..
"The Missouri Supreme Court cases which specifically address the issue of document preparation, First Escrow, Mid-America and Eisel, make it clear that this is the unauthorized practice of law. The fact that the customer communicates via computer rather than face to face or that the document prepared using a computer program rather than a pen and paper does not change the essence of the transaction."

This Opinion could be interpreted to mean that all legal software programs are a form of conduct, and not entitled to First Amendment protection. I would argue that the Court comes to this conclusion because the legal software is used in the context of a document preparation service, and is not a stand alone program. As the Court further explains that:

As in Hulse, First Escrow, Mid-America, and Eisel, LegalZoom’s customers are rendered passive bystanders after providing the information necessary to complete the form. Yet LegalZoom charges a fee for its legal document preparation service. …..The customer merely provides information and "Legal takes over."

The facts of this case make a difference, I would argue, in understanding the scope of the Court’s Opinion.

If we define a legal software program as a "product", where there is no service element and no conduct whatever, then it is hard for me to believe that the Court intended to ban legal software programs from distribution directly to consumers, whether on-line or off-line.

If that was the Court’s intent, then companies like Nolo and Intuit, would have to pull their products off the shelves of Barnes & Noble and Staples and Amazon, programs like LawHelp Interactive, supported by the US Legal Services Corporation, would have to be terminated, and the many web sites that offer interactive forms, without any service component would have to be abandoned. Courts that are experimenting with distributing interactive forms from their web sites, would have to consider whether this activity is the "unauthorized practice of law", a strange result.

A2J Guided InterviewsLaw Schools like Chicago-Kent Law School that are experimenting with new legal software interfaces that connect citizens directly with legal help through software, might reconsider their efforts.

Stop No Entry

The only way that such legal software could be used, would be by attorneys in the context of delivering of legal service through their law firms. I think this would be an unfortunate result.

 

Other possible negative consequences of such an interpretation would be:

  • The legal profession would be further attacked for attempts to restrict commerce and maintain higher legal pricing by the consuming public causing further damage to the profession’s already declining reputation;
     
  • Pro se litigants would not have access to tools that enable them to represent themselves, further restricting access to the legal system;

It would be helpful, if the Missouri District Court clarified its language on page 21 of the Court Order to distinguish between fact situations where interactive legal software is used as part of a document preparation service business and situations where the programs are distributed as stand alone programs — products–  like a book or other publication. What do you think?

 Increasng Profit Margins With Document Automation- Free White Paper

 

How to Fight Fraud

19 Jul
Win with Jurisdictionary!Today’s Tips & Tactics will help all of you who are fighting banks, credit card companies, and anyone else who fraudulently claims you owe them money!
If you’re an honest person being sued by a dishonest creditor, today’s Tips & Tactics may save you a load of cash … if you do things the way you’ll learn in myofficial affordable 24-hour step-by step  Jurisdictionary self-help course!

There’s a reason for the phrase, “Put it in writing!”

Every jurisdiction we know of adopts a common law principle known as the “Statute of Frauds” so people wishing to sue you for any promise they say you made to them must offer written evidence of that promise …signed by you!

No writing, no lawsuit.

It could be a mortgage, promissory note, lease, credit card application, or any other promise they say you made.

In some states, if the promise was to perform some service that was to be performed in less than one year, or to pay less than $500 for some item like a lawn mower or bicycle, no writing is required … but if the promise was for more than a year or more than a small amount of money, the Statute of Frauds bars the lawsuitif there is no writing signed by you!

So, what’s the first thing you do when you’re sued for a promise you did not make?You demand to see the original writing that bears your signature!

How do you do that?

You use what’s called a Request for Production. The other side has a certain time period within which to comply. If they don’t produce (and many times they’ll put up some bogus objection) you file a Motion to Compel Production and set your motion for hearing. If you do this the way we teach in our 24-hour step-by-step Jurisdictionary self-help course, the judge will ORDER them to produce … and if they fail to obey the order their case will be dismissed!

You do not use a subpoena to get documents from the opposing party. You use a Request for Production, and you can use it to get other things as well, if they will likely lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.

Help Your Friends!
Forward this email and this link so they can get the Lawsuit Flowchart so your friends can see how easy it is to win.

I explain in the Jurisdictionary course how a client came to me after being sued by Sears for a credit card debt. He told me he never had a Sears card, so I served the plaintiff with a Request for Production demanding to see “every document signed by the defendant”. Sears had 30 days to respond.

On the 29th day I got a call from Sears’ lawyer saying they couldn’t find any documents signed by my client and asking for an extension of time.

I refused.

The case was dismissed.

Because of the present economic crisis, some judges make an effort to lean favorably toward creditors who come to court without sufficient evidence. If you don’t know what we teach in the Jurisdictionary course, you might find yourself on the short end of a long judgment against you for a debt you truly do not owe. It’s happening far too frequently.

Of course the practice of requiring the other side to prove their case (using Requests for Production and your other powerful evidence discovery tools) is a practice you cannot afford to ignore.

Proof is what lawsuits are all about.

Learn how to prove your position … and how to force the other side to prove theirs!

Losers believe in fables and get their legal education at the barbershop or expensive weekend seminars or websites run by people who never practiced law, never went to law school, and don’t know mud from sand about the rules of court or how to use them to prevent fraud.

Protect yourself from lawyers and judges!

It’s easy, once you understand “due process”.

Due process IS your most valuable right.

Due process is your most valuable right, because without the ability to win in court, the rest of your “rights” are just political rhetoric, promises with no power.

The Constitution of the United States promises you the protection of due process, but it doesn’t tell you what due process is or how to get it!

Jurisdictionary was created by a lawyer with more than 23 years of experience winning lawsuits!

Winners learn the rules of evidence, the rules of procedure, and how to use the rules to control corrupt judges and overcome crooked lawyers.

Learn how to protect yourself!

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The complete 4-CD course is still only $249.

If you have a lawyer, you can save thousands in legal fees just by knowing what the lawyer should be doing to win.

If you don’t have a lawyer, you’ll know how to stop the opponent’s crooked tactics and get the judge on your side!

The key to winning is knowing how to use the rules!

  • The Rules of Evidence
  • The Rules of Procedure

That’s all there is to it.

The rules are actually simpler than the official rules of major league baseball …believe it or not!

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Summary Judgment – The Trap

14 Jul

 

Here’s how to avoid the summary judgment trap! 

Summary judgment can be a good thing – when it’s working for you!

It can mean the end of litigation in your favor, victory without a fight.

It can save months and even years of money-draining litigation sorrows.

But!

If your opponent files a motion for summary judgment against you, the result can be immediate defeat if you don’t apply what I teach you.

Banks and other powerful opponents do this routinely. They start with a laundry list of affidavits by which they wish the court to believe they’ve “proven” the facts of their case (inadmissible affidavits, by the way), and their lawyer points to the paperwork, files a motion for summary judgment, and insists the case has already been proven.

That is almost never the truth.

It’s a trap!

Here’s what you need to know!

Summary judgment is provided by Rule 56 Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and by state court rules in every state in our Republic. All the states follow the federal rule closely. There may be a few minor differences but, in general, the rule and the principles are identical.

Either party (plaintiff or defendant) may file the motion.

The motion must allege (and the moving party must ultimately prove) “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”

Danger!

There is almost always at least some “genuine issue as to a material fact” that precludes summary judgment.

But!

If you don’t understand what is meant by “genuine issue” or “material fact”, you will lose … needlessly!

I’ve been an attorney nearly a quarter-century. I’ve read a h— of a lot of cases in those years, believe me. And, in all that reading I discovered that summary judgments are routinely set aside on appeal! That’s right. The majority of summary judgment orders are reversed on appeal.

Don’t believe me?

Go to any online legal research cite and enter the following search terms: precludes w/4 summary (i.e., search the case law in your appellate jurisdiction for the word “precludes” appearing within 4 words of “summary”).

Hit “Enter” and sit back and watch the cases fly onto your screen one-after-another. I just pulled up 151 of them here in Florida’s state appellate decisions.

Read a few dozen and you’ll see what I mean.

Don’t be trapped by summary judgment motions!

The key to winning (whether you’re the one defending or the one filing the motion) is the rule itself and preparation for appeal that’s made simple enough for an 8th grader to understand using my affordable Jurisdictionary step-by-step self-help course.

Read the rule … state or federal.

Also read the cases that explain the rule and how it is applied by the appellate courts to determine if summary judgment is proper or not.

The motion is evaluated on the following grounds: “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,together with affidavits, if any”.

So many of you don’t yet understand the power of your five (5) discovery tools and the importance of firing them off at the first opportunity in your case. By requests for admissions, requests for production, interrogatories, and a deposition or two along with a few subpoenas you can make it clear there are “genuine issues of material fact” in the record … precluding summary judgment.

The other fortress against summary judgment is built by drafting powerful pleadings (whether you’re the plaintiff or defendant). The pleadings (complaint and answer with affirmative defenses) are the first defense against losing on a summary judgment motion, because your pleadings raise the issues that you’re competing for. If you file weak pleadings (plaintiff or defendant) you offer your opponent an opportunity to charge ahead with summary judgment.

Weak pleadings followed by delayed discovery opens the door for your opponent to argue, “There are no genuine issues of material fact in the record,” and that’s all he needs to win.

My Jurisdictionary course shows you how to draft powerful pleadings in easy steps with explanations and examples of the forms most commonly used.

The courts are jammed with litigation. In most states, it can take months just to schedule a simple hearing. Most judges welcome opportunities to grant summary judgment, because it clears the case off the docket!

Beware! The judge wants to enter summary judgment. Not because you are pro se. Not because he hates you. Not because he plays golf with the lawyer on the other side. But, because he wants to clear his clogged calendar of pending cases that are backing up because of the glut of litigation that is delaying justice for good people!

You must prepare with lawsuit know-how or lose!

Solid pleadings create an impenetrable barrier to entry of summary judgment orders. They plainly state the genuine issues of material fact. If they are “verified” (as I teach in my affordable 24-hour, step-by-step Jurisdictionary self-help course they should always be) then you have built a protective wall around your case. The genuine issues of material fact are in your pleadings! Your pleadings cannot be changed by your opponent. You state your “genuine issues of material fact” in your complaint or answer and affirmative defenses, and protect yourself from summary judgment motions filed by the other side!

Prompt discovery provides an additional barrier against summary judgment rulings. When the other side cannot produce documents you’ve properly requested according to the rules, and those documents would tend to prove your case, then a “genuine issue of material fact” is established that precludes entry of summary judgment. The same can be said of requests for admissions, interrogatories, answers to deposition questions, and so forth.

And, of course, the importance of arranging in advance to have every proceeding recorded by an official court reporter and to arrange in advance for obtaining a certified transcript afterward to prove everything said or done in court cannot be overstressed! Like the Chinese Laundry operator used to say, “No ticky. No washy.” If you don’t arrange in advance for a certified transcript to be available to you after every in-court proceeding, you’ve telegraphed permission for the judge to do whatever the judge wishes to do … and that include knocking your case off his busy calendar by granting summary judgment, because without a court record the judge knows he cannot be reversed on appeal! No transcript. No appeal.

It breaks my heart to learn how many of you are beaten by summary judgment and other tactics by unscrupulous lawyers who don’t care about truth or justice or fairness or anything beyond a newer sports car and a bigger swimming pool in their backyard.

You don’t have to lose just because you’re pro se!

I receive emails every day from people who believe that lie … people who’d rather complain about their losses and blame anyone but their own unwillingness to learn. This is not the spirit that once made America great, my friends.

Learn Rule 56 (or the corresponding rule in your state court). Read a few dozen cases you can find online using the search terms given above.

Educate yourselves on something other than the insidious silver-bullet nonsense that is so prevalent on the internet these days.

People who say justice is impossible for pro se litigants are misinformed.

Justice most certainly is possible … for those who take my affordable 24-hour, step-by-step Jurisdictionary self-help course.

If you want to learn the rules at the law library and not pay for my course, that’s fine with me. But, please stop believing those who saypro se justice is impossible.

I will say this: Justice IS impossible for those who don’t yet know how to command the courts as I teach.

Finally, please know this about me and my success in court: I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I have never belonged to a country club. I didn’t win cases by being one of the “good old boys”. For most of my life I was common as dirt. I didn’t get my chance to go to law school until I was 39. That was 28 years ago. I won on a regular basis in spite of the odds against me because I believe in the rules of due process and, after 10 years of fumbling around in the dark, I finally learned how to use those rules effectively to control judges and get justice for my clients!

Until I was 42 years old and passed the bar exam, I had to work as hard or harder than any of you just to make ends meet! I was a ferry boat skipper. I ran fishing boats. I swung a hammer and pushed a saw and carried sheets of plywood and 2×4’s. I had a job pulling beers in a southern bar where pickled eggs, pigs feet, and boiled peanuts were the food du jour. I scraped barnacles off boat bottoms. I climbed tall radio towers to replace light bulbs. I once spent weeks inside unfinished sailboats grinding fiberglass in the Miami heat, enduring the itch of fiberglass dust mixed with sweat and occasional blood from the cuts of sharp edges of newly laid fiberglass material. At one point in my long career of unimaginables, I drove a Frosty root beer truck delivering cases of soda to country stores in the farmlands east of Tampa. I worked my way through undergraduate school at Florida State (because my family could not afford to send me to college) installing short wave radios in fire trucks and ambulances. I didn’t make enough to go to an ivy league school. For years I lived in rented one-room apartments and got about on a bicycle, because I couldn’t afford a car or gasoline. For nearly 9 years of my adult life I lived in small beat-up old sailboats, no air-conditioning, no refrigerator, no TV.

I know what most of you are going through!

I want to help you!

But, you need help yourselves and others!

I didn’t win most of my cases by sucking up to the good old boys! I won by learning how to use the rules, and you can learn, too!

We can win the war against corruption in this nation and be the example Adams and Paine and Washington intended us to be … but we must do it according to The Rules of Law and with due process, not foolish fables.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO LOSE!

Believing internet fables, even if they were true, isn’t going to help you or your family. Joining the crowd that can only complain and point fingers isn’t making things better for any of us.

The true patriots who are making things better for all of us (or, at least, trying their best to do so) are those who fight for victories over corruption using due process and the Rule of Law for which too many good men and women have already given their lives.

Let us honor those who gave their all for the sake of liberty and due process by renewing our pledge to the cause of Justice … overcoming the corruption in our courts by forcing judges to obey the rules too many have already died for!

Please don’t send me emails telling me the courts are corrupt. I know first-hand about corruption. That’s why I created Jurisdictionary in the first place. I know judges who are so corrupt they should be horse-whipped. I know lawyers who are so corrupt they don’t know how to stop lying, even when they aren’t in court.

But! I also know how to win … and you can, too!

I’d appreciate receiving some emails this week thanking me for Jurisdictionary instead of attacking me for not joining the milieu of madness that has little to offer beyond telling us what’s wrong. Most of us already know what’s wrong. What we need is for more of you to discover that the only way to deal with corruption is to overcome it!

Complaining about corruption alone does not stop it!

When corruption is in the courts, the way to win is to rub the judges’ noses in their very own rules!

Good judges will do what’s right.

BAd judges fear being reversed on appeal.

I didn’t win for a quarter-century by belonging to the “good old boys” network. I don’t belong to any fraternity or secret society. I hate the good old boys for a number of personal reasons I may write about in my autobiography someday, if anyone is interested. I hate all they stand for. I hate their abuse of people who don’t know how to fight back. I hate their cruelty. I hate their arrogance!

So I created Jurisdictionary so YOU can fight back!

The choice is yours, after all.

I cannot make you believe what I say.

You simply need to try my methods and see for yourself what the people who wrote those testimonials at the right have discovered. →

If you already have my course, urge EVERYONE to get the course and stop the courthouse corruption that is destroying our nation and putting your children’s future in peril of being utterly destroyed by the elitist agenda to rule us all by taking away our voice and our right to be heard in court on the public record!

If you don’t yet have my course, order it today and find out for yourself just how powerful you can be with just a little bit of practical lawsuit know-how!

Help us restore due process to our nation, please!

Learn how to use the rules to command justice!

Help us overcome the evil of this age!

Do it for your children!

Dr. Frederick David Graves, JD

Jurisdictionary

– – – – – – –

To win in court you must fight tooth-and-nail!

This isn’t a parlor game!

This is war!

The rules of due process are the People’s Power to control the machine we call government and get the redress for our grievances that millions died for!

My profession has hidden the rules of due process from you and from the rest of the public, so lawyers can charge exorbitant fees to do what any 8th grader can do after learning how with my affordable 24-hour, step-by-step Jurisdictionary self-help course.

Due process is your #1 right, because without it none of your other “rights” are enforceable in court!

But! To enforce your rights you need to use the rules!

The Constitution mentions due process. It doesn’t begin to explainwhat due process is or how to use it to control courts … and thereby to control judges, lawyers, giant banks, high-minded government officials, or even angry neighbors!

Can we Americans afford not to learn the rules?

Due process is the power of the people to control their government by controlling the courts!

Jurisdictionary believes it’s criminal for a government to refuse to teach its People how to use due process to enforce the People’s God-given rights! But, our leaders refuse to teach us the rules by which they control us!

Jurisdictionary also believes it’s criminal to promote legal people fables or to urge people to believe justice is impossible! Corruption is real. We know that. But those who know the rules and how to use them get justice for themselves in our courts, if their cause is just!

If you agree with us, please help us by telling others what we teach. If they don’t want to buy my course, that’s fine. Let them go to the law libraries and learn the official rules from the official books. But, PLEASE PROMOTE OUR VISION!

Until we Americans learn the RULES of due process, we cannot possibly hope to control those who hold the reins of government power … and at this critical hour we have very little time to take control of our government!

Some leaders in Congress are hell-bent to enforce laws on us that will totally remove our right to due process!

America needs to go to court!

Every last one of us simply must learn how to control the nonsense coming out of our courts today. Every last one of us must learn how to overcome crooked lawyers using the “official rules”, instead of internet mythology.

It isn’t hard to learn!

It really isn’t.

But, if we refuse to learn it will be US who’ll be to blame when America falls to the powerful elite we are allowing to rob us of our heritage and even our morality as a people.

Please help me promote due process knowledge!

Support Jurisdictionary!

Or, you can follow the advice of the internet nutcases who tell you to challenge the judge’s oath of office, or to claim your NAME IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS isn’t you, or to insist because there’s a fringe on the courtroom flag that the court is operating under admiralty law, or some other absolute nonsense that will end up getting you destroyedand giving even more power to the ruthless lawyers and judges who steal from the poor to give to the rich and rob your children and their future of the moral framework that makes human happiness possible!

If you don’t want lawyers and judges to rule the world, learn the official rules of due process that control them!

We are running out of options!

To learn more, visit my web site: Jurisdictionary.

– – – – – – –

You may find this hard to believe, however today’s law schools don’t teach law students what it takes to win! They don’t teach how to use the rules of evidence and rules of procedure to overcome crooked lawyers and control corrupt, arrogant, high-minded judges, because it isn’t “politically correct” to tell the truth about this “profession”. But, knowing how to control judges and overcome crooked lawyers is what it’s all about!

The typical lawyer will play every dirty trick in the book, but it’s not a judge’s job to interfere. The judge is not allowed to interfere. But! You can prevent the lawyer on the other side from getting away with his or her dirty tricks once you know how to force the judge to put a stop to it using the RULES!

There’s a reason why there are more critical jokes about lawyers than all the rest of the professions combined! You cannot afford to let lawyers side-step the rules and destroy your future, your finances, and your family!

Learn how to force the judge to enforce the rules!

Know the truth that law schools refuse to teach!

Learn how to use official court rules in an effective, tactical manner that demands compliance and obtains justice for you!

Jurisdictionary will show you how in just 24 hours!

Law schools teach 3 years of theory, but many professors never practiced law, and those who have any experience in court are teaching instead of doing. Ask yourself why. A good lawyer can make several times what a tenured law professor can pull down teaching. Do the math!

This is good news for you!

In reality, perhaps a majority of lawyers don’t have a clue what they’re doing … so, once you know what the 24-hour Jurisdictionary course teaches step-by-step, you’ll actually have an advantage … becauseyou’ll know what law schools refuse to teach!

Due process isn’t difficult at all, but it is an axe fight!

Sharpen your axe with Jurisdictionary!

Nothing else works!

Even if you have thousands to pay lawyers to go to court for you, Jurisdictionary can save you money by showing you what your lawyer should be doing to earn his or her pay.

If you can’t afford a lawyer (or don’t trust them) then this affordable 24-hour step-by-step course is just what you need to protect your God-given rights from abuse.

Learn the process of due process that lawyers don’t want you to know … and stand up for your rights effectively!

And, nobody makes it easier than Jurisdictionary!

Do what Jurisdictionary teaches, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you find the judge is on your side!

Dr. Frederick D. Graves, JD
Toll Free: 866-Law-Easy

 

 
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Is LegalZoom Just a Self-Help Legal Software Company?

04 Jul

In a Fortune Magazine blog post by Roger Parloff just last week, entitled Can Software Practice Law?, writing about the class action suit against LegalZoom in Missouri for violating Missouri’s UPL statute, Parloff argues that LegalZoom is no more than a self-help legal software company, and therefore entitled to the same protections as a self-help legal software publisher. The question of whether legal software constitutes the practice of law is a controversial one. When the Texas Bar won a suit against Nolo Press on the grounds that its WillMaker program constituted the practice of law, the Texas Legislature amended the UPL statute and further defined the practice of law  as follows:

Texas Code, 81.101 (c) the "practice of law" does not include the design, creation, publication, distribution, display, or sale, including publication, distribution, display, or sale by means of an Internet Web site, of written materials, books, forms, computer software, or similar products if the products clearly and conspicuously state that the products are not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. This subsection does not authorize the use of the products or similar media in violation of Chapter 83 and does not affect the applicability or enforceability of that chapter.

No other state has passed such an exemption, but there is a well-established line of cases that supports the position that the publication of information about the law, as well as self-help legal books, divorce forms with instructions, and do-it-yourself kits is not the practice of law and protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and may be protected by state constitutions as well. See, e.g., New York County Lawyers’ Ass’n v. Dacey, 21 N.Y.2d 694, 234 N.E.2d 459 (N.Y. 1967), aff’ing on grounds in dissenting opinion, 283 N.Y.S.2d 984 (N.Y. App. 1967); Oregon State Bar v. Gilchrist, 538 P.2d 913 (Or. 1975); State Bar of Michigan v. Cramer, 249 N.W.2d 1 (Mich. 1976); The Florida Bar v. Brumbaugh, 355 So.2d 1186 (Fla. 1978); People v. Landlords Professional Services, 215 Cal. App.3d 1599, 264 Cal. Rptr. 548 (Cal. 1989). 

LegalZoom takes the position that it is no more than a self-help legal publisher and seeks to fall within this classification, as Roger Parloff argues in his blog post. This is also the position that Legal Zoom takes on its Web site and in its answer to the Missouri Complaint:

From the LegalZoom Web site:

"Is LegalZoom engaged in the practice of law?"

"No.  LegalZoom is the latest and natural evolution of the centuries-old legal self-help industry."

"No jurisdiction prohibits the sale of software that generates a legal document based on a customer’s unique input.  LegalZoom has never been prohibited from operating in any state."

"Should consumers be concerned about LegalZoom losing this case?"

"No.  If LegalZoom is found to be engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in Missouri, then every guide and legal formbook in libraries and bookstores in the state would also be engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.  These days, nearly all such books are packaged with computer software that works in a similar manner to LegalZoom.  Just like with a Nolo Press® book or a preprinted form, LegalZoom customers have the ability to review and consider their legal form before committing to their purchase."

It is not possible to know how LegalZoom’s document technology actually works without further evidence. However, one can state with certainty that it doesn’t work like a true Web-enabled document automation technology which generates a document instantly from data entered into an on-line questionnaire that is presented through the Web browser.

Vendors of true Web-enabled document automation solutions, such as HotDocs, Exari, DealBuilder, WhichDraft and Rapidocs (our company) have document automation technologies that generate a document instantly after the user clicks on the submit button. Because LegalZoom’s technology seems to require a separate step that is executed off-line, it does not in my opinion, fit into the category of a Web-enabled document automation technology. [ For a more extensive discussion of Web-Enabled Document Automation as a Disruptive Technology, click here to download our white paper on the subject. ]

Instead, in the LegalZoom  business model, as described by LegalZoom, a data file is created, reviewed by a legal technician, and then imported into their – document assembly application utilizing some form of import mechanism. It is not clear whether the document is fully-assembled until this second step takes place, and it’s a distinction that makes a difference.

If LegalZoom were just a legal software company, it is hard to understand why it needs over 400 employees to provide services to its customers, other than the fact that these employees are conducting professional reviews and providing real service support. For these services, LegalZoom receives a substantially higher price than if they were just selling a self-help legal form. See for example on the LegalZoom Web site, the 30-point review of wills conducted by LegalZoom’s "professional legal document assistants."

These more labor intensive, personal services makes LegalZoom a "service business" and not just a "legal software publisher" entitled to the First Amendment protections that are afforded to publishers.

Andrea Riccio, a Canadian lawyer who has commented about this subject, responds to some of the arguments that LegalZoom makes in its defense:

LegalZoom’s argument: "Typically, there is no interaction between the customer and the person reviewing the file."

Riccio’s response:

“The mere fact that the employee is granted access to the customer’s response is an interaction between the employee and customer.”

LegalZoom’s argument: "If there is an inconsistency, it is NOT corrected by the employee – instead, it is brought to the attention of the customer." 

Riccio’s response:

“Whether it is the customer or the LegalZooM employee that physically changes the document is irrelevant. What is important is that it is the LegalZoom employee that has identified the inconsistency. That, in my opinion, goes beyond "self-help" and is an act of legal draftsmanship.”

LegalZoom’s argument: "no employee revises or corrects any portion of the customer’s self-created document." 

Riccio’s response:

“Identifying inconsistencies or errors in another person’s document is in my opinion an act of revision and correction. Who physically makes the changes is irrelevant.”


It is for these reasons that LegalZoom was required to be licensed under California law as a registered and bonded legal document assistant (see footer
LegalZoom Web site).

What is a Legal Document Assistant?

A "Legal Document Assistant", as defined by the California Business & Professions Code (Section 6400 (c)) is:

"Any person who is otherwise not exempted and who provides, or assists in providing, or offers to provide, or offers to assist in providing, for compensation, any self-help service to a member of the public who is representing himself or herself in a legal matter, or who holds himself or herself out as someone who offers that service or has that authority, or a corporation, partnership, association, or other entity that employs or contracts with any person who is not otherwise exempted who, as part of his or her responsibilities, provides, or assists in providing, or offers to provide, or offers to assist in providing, for compensation, any self-help service to a member of the public who is representing himself or herself in a legal matter or holds himself or herself out as someone who offers that service or has that authority."

This California statutory scheme is based on the idea that a non-lawyer can perform clerical support functions without violating the unauthorized practice of law statute in California. Only a few states have carved out this exception by statute (e.g., California, Florida, Arizona).  Missouri is not one of them.

Could LegalZoom operate in California, where it is headquartered, without being registered with the state as a Legal Document Assistant?  I think not.  

This is the category that LegalZoom fits into, not “self-help” software.

Otherwise, I suppose Nolo, a California-based self-help legal software publisher, and other California-based legal software publishers that sell directly to the public, would have to be licensed in California as Legal Document Assistants!!!  (See generally – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_document_assistant, for a more extensive discussion of what a Legal Document Assistant is, and is not.)

Just to be clear, I am personally in favor of both self-help legal software and paralegal-assisted document preparation services as a way of providing access to the legal system, and personally think there should be more choices for consumers.  But my personal opinions are not the issue.  The issue is: 

“What does the law in the different states now require, and what can we do to change it if we don’t like it?”

It is becoming clear that LegalZoom’s defense strategy in the Missouri case is to associate itself with “self-help software”.  I am sure that its well-financed publicity machine is already approaching bloggers and the business press to write stories about whether “legal software” should be prohibited or regulated, when the real issue is whether and under what conditions a legal document preparation service should be regulated, or immune from regulation.

Definitions of what is “legal self-help software”, and what is not, are critical for carving out safe harbors for innovation, particularly as legal software applications that are distributed over the Internet have potential for great impact and for providing access to the legal system for those who cannot afford full service legal representation.

For example, LawHelpInteractive, a non-profit pro bono support organization, with grants from the US Legal Service Corporation, has assisted in the creation of true Web-based document assembly Web sites in many states that provides free legal forms directly to consumers that can be assembled directly on-line. 

LawHelpInteractive has generated thousands of legal forms during the past few years that are instantly available and free to consumers throughout the United States. No one is arguing that these Web sites constitute the practice of law.

Because of the wider reach of the Internet, Web-enabled legal software applications are actually more of a threat to the legal profession, than desktop software, and the opportunity for over-regulation remains ever present. I would regret the day that courts prohibit the sale of self-help legal software because it is the unauthorized practice of law.

However, stronger arguments can be made for protecting from regulation the distribution of legal software applications, than there are for exempting from regulation a "service business", so I maintain that confusing one category with another is dangerous and takes us down a slippery slope.

Whether or not LegalZoom provides a valuable service; whether or not consumers have been harmed by LegalZoom; and whether or not the company provides some form of legal advice are questions of fact for the Missouri jury, and beyond the scope of this post.

The question for the U.S. District Court in Missouri is whether, as a matter of Missouri law, LegalZoom’s document preparation service business constitutes the practice of law in Missouri, under the terms of the Missouri UPL statute.

I think it does. What do you think?

 

 

What Every Lawyer Should Know About Document Automation

18 Jun

For years some law firms, but not all, have used some form of document automation in their law offices. Ranging from an MS Word macro to long standing programs such as HotDocs, as well as automated forms distributed by legal publishers such as Willmaker by Nolo, some law offices have incorporated some form of document automation in their law practices. Document automation of legal documents that are generated in high quantity by a law firm is an indispensable process for increasing law firm productivity and maintaining profit margins in an era of intense competition.

Legal Document Creation the Old Way

The manual process of cutting and pasting clauses from a master MS Word document into a new document, is a productivity process which is fast becoming out dated. It reminds me of the time before there were automated litigation support programs, and legal assistants would duplicate a set of case documents three or four times. The next step was filling one file cabinet with a set of documents in alpha order, filling another filing cabinet with a set of documents in date order, and finally, filling another filing cabinet with a set of documents in issue or subject order to enable "fast"   retrievable of relevant paper documents. It took awhile, but almost all litigation lawyers now use automated litigation support methods.. This is not true of transactional lawyers, many of whom still use out-dated methods of creating legal documents, as if each legal document were a unique novel, poem, or other work of fiction.

Barriers to Change

An obstacle to wider use of automated document assembly methods, is typically the lawyer’s insistence on crafting the words in each clause to their own satisfaction. Because most lawyer’s do not have the requisite programming skill to automate their own documents, law firms by default will opt to use their own non-automated documents, rather than risk using the legal documents automated by an independent provider, because by definition the content of the documents is "not their own." As a result, many law firms do not even use desk-top document assembly solutions when the forms are published by an independent provider or publisher, remaining stuck using more time consuming and less productive manual methods.

Typically, when a law firm does use document assembly methods, a paralegal inputs answers from a paper intake/questionnaire into a document assembly program running on a personal computer. This results in the extra time-consuming step of inputting data from the intake questionnaire to the document assembly program, but it is still more efficient than manual methods.

Web-Enabled Document Automation

Now comes, "web-enabled legal document automation" methods."  Web-enabled document automation is a process whereby the intake questionnaire is presented on-line to the client through the web browser to be completed directly.

When the client clicks the "Submit" button the document is instantly assembled, ready for the attorneys further review, analysis, revision, and customization if necessary.  The result is a further leap in productivity because the client is actually doing part of the work at no cost to the lawyer, freeing the lawyer up to focus on analysis and further customization of the document.

This is what the work flow looks like when using web-enabled document automation methods:

Client Journey- Web-Enabled Document Automation Work Flow

Unfortunately, lawyers have been slow to adapt to this process as well,  because of their reluctance to use legal documents drafted or automated by someone else. However in order to automate their own documents they must either acquire the skill to do the job, or commit the capital to have a skilled professional automate their documents for them. For solos and small law firms these two constraints create formidable obstacles to using more efficient methods.

Since neither condition is common within smaller law firms (programming skill, investment capital), the result is that the law firm gets stuck using older less productive methods of document creation.

Vendors that provide web-enabled document platforms include, our own Rapidocs, and Exari, Brightleaf, HotDocs, DealBuilder, and Wizilegal, to name only a few, all claim that their authoring systems are easy to use, but I have yet to see lawyers without any kind of programming skill create their own automated legal documents in any quantity. Thus, law firms become stuck in a negative loop of their own creation which reduces productivity (and profitability) :

"My legal documents are better than yours; I can’t automate them for the web because I don’t know how; thus I will be less productive and be required to charge you more because of my own inefficiency."

Competition

In the consumer space, now comes the non-lawyer providers to take advantage of the solo and small law firm’s competitive disadvantage. Research by companies like Kiiac provide support the conclusion that 85% of the language in transactional documents is actually the same. In more commoditized areas, where legal forms have been standardized,  the legal form content is 100% the same in all documents. Taking advantage of this consistency of legal form content,  companies like LegalZoom, Nolo, CompleteCase, SmartLegalForms, and LegacyWriter , with their superior on-line marketing and branding machines, now sell legal forms by the thousands at low cost which provide a "good enough" legal solution for consumers who would do any thing to avoid paying the higher fees to an attorney.

Its true that the consumer doesn’t get the benefit of the attorney’s legal advice and counsel, and the accountability and protection that dealing with an attorney provides, but consumers don’t seem to care.

What can be done?

The "web-based legal document automation solution" , used by non-lawyer providers, is a disruptive technology  that is eating away at the core business base of the typical solo and small law firm practitioner. 

What can solos and small law firms do to compete in this challenging competitive environment?
The American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center reported last year in their Annual Technology Survey that only 52.2% of solo practitioner’s don’t have a web site.  Even if this number is underestimated, it is shockingly low compared with web site utilization by other industries.  If you don’t even have a web site, the idea of "web-enabled document automation" is still a "light year" away.

What can be done to encourage more wide-spread use of web-enabled document automation technology by law firms, particularly solos and small law firms? A follow-up post will explore some solutions, but I am open to ideas from anyone.

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How Much is Legal Advice Worth?

25 May

One of the winners of TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon is a new, yet to be launched, legal document web site called, Docracy,  The idea is that members will contribute their legal documents to an open source site so that there would be a basis for comparison between  "open source" documents and the document that the member needs for their business. The theory is that by comparing documents, with the document that the member has on hand, there would be a basis for comparison, resulting in an informed decision, without the cost or benefit of legal advice.

In this model, legal advice from an attorney is worth zero. The model is designed to eliminate the attorney from the transaction.

The idea was developed by mobile app developers Matt Hall and John Watkinson ,from Larva Labs, who were faced with signing an NDA with a client and were unsure of some of the terms and concluded that the cost of legal advice was either unnecessary or prohibitive.

This is another example of the resentment that the average consumer  and small business person has towards the legal profession resulting in the rise of non-lawyer legal form web sites such as LegalZoom.

Another example of an open source legal document repository is Docstoc which we have used as a research source. It is useful for us, because as lawyers we understand what we are reading. I think simply accessing raw documents as a consumer would be a daunting exercise, although I am sure that many consumers and small business use the site.

The problem with any  legal document web site as a source for creating binding legal documents  is that the use of a particular clause may be rooted in case law in a particular jurisdiction.

Without understanding all of the implications of using particular language in an agreement, the "non-lawyer" moves into a danger zone, because he or she has no idea what they are signing. 

A better alternative is a "self-help" book from Nolo that contains both legal forms and explanations of the implications of each clause, but that often involves reading and understanding a 300 page book, which is beyond the attention span of most consumers.

Another solution is an automated document with extensive help screens that explain the implications of choosing one clause over the other.

A third alternative, is to purchase "unbundled and limited legal services" from an on-line law firm  for a fixed price with legal advice bundled into the transaction. In that case you get a certain level of accountability and guarantee that the legal advice is correct for the user’s individual situation.

See for example the firms listed at DirectLaw’s legal document portal , where you can access legal forms for free, or forms bundled with legal advice for a fixed fee.


You don’t get legal advice from a legal forms web site or a LegalZoom for that matter, which can be a major limitation depending on the complexity of the document or the transaction. Without annotations that explain the significance of particular language in an agreement, the non-lawyer is stumbling around in the dark.
 
Nevertheless, I don’t doubt that consumers and small business will find this a popular site, despite its limitations. Caveat emptor!
 
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Nolo is Acquired by Internet Brands as Part of Legal Roll Up

01 May

After 40 years of leading the self-help law movement, Nolo, is being acquired by Internet Brands an advertising driven Internet company. Nolo was created by two frustrated legal aid lawyers, Charles (Ed) Sherman and Ralph (Jake) Warner, who wanted to figure out a way to help the thousands of consumers with their legal problems who could not afford an attorney and were turned away by legal aid because their incomes were too high.

Based in Berkeley, California, the center of the counter cultural revolution of the 1960’s, Nolo assembled a group of radical lawyers, editors, and writers who were determined to do something about a broken legal system where 90% of the US middle class were priced out of the legal system. Championing legal reforms that would make the U.S. justice system accessible to everyone, the company has seen these reforms become mainstream in the US.

Courts now offer their own automated self-help legal forms, legal aid agencies publish state-wide legal information web sites and also distribute automated legal forms, legal form web sites give away legal forms for free as a way to generate traffic, small claims court limits have been raised in many states, and lawyers are delivering "unbundled legal services" and creating virtual law firms,  figuring out ways to deliver legal services online for a fixed and affordable fee.

Its ironic that Nolo is being acquired by  Internet Brands, for an amount rumored to be in the range of $20,970,000, by an advertising company that is focused primarily on generating leads for law firms through their directories and advertising properties. How does self-help law fit into this business model?

The amount being paid is little more than one times revenue — not exactly a premium.  Although, Nolo  publishes Willmaker and several other excellent web-based legal software programs, it is still primarily a book publisher. In its hey day, before the Internet penetrated almost every household in America, Nolo self-help law books were the primary source for accurate do it yourself legal information and forms.

As the web expanded hundreds of legal information and legal form web sites also emerged, plus national brands such as LegalZoom. These web-based alternatives also provided  legal solutions without the need to use a lawyer — the same need that Nolo was meeting. Except that instead of reading a 200-300 page book in order to get to a legal solution —  web-based applications delivered a legal solution more efficiently, faster, and at less cost.

Nolo has migrated many of its legal forms online, too little and too late, and except for a few major products, non-automated forms. Here is another example of a print publisher whose business, despite the excellence of its product, has been eroded by the Internet.

It is well known that Nolo’s book business actually declined during this recession and growth has been flat. The fastest growing area of Nolo’s business is their Lawyer Directory. This is ironic for a company that prided itself in developing self-help legal solutions that don’t require the assistance of an attorney.

The challenge for Internet Brands will be to figure out how to unlock the assets buried within Nolo’s vast collection of self-help law books and turn these assets into web-based applications that can be distributed over the Internet. It remains to be seen whether the quality of Nolo’s self-help legal content will deteriorate under the management of an advertising-driven company that measures results in page views and unique visitors.

Internet Brands, previously a public company, was recently taken private private when it was acquired by Hellman & Friedman, a private equity firm, based in San Francisco,  in December, 2010. Internet Brands has acquired over 70 vertical web sites in areas ranging from travel to cars to real estate. Internet Brands derives more than 70% of its revenues from advertising on its portfolio of web sites.

In December, 2010 Internet Brands also acquired ALLLAW.com , a consumer legal information portal and AttorneyLocate – an Attorney Directory Service. Both of these web sites are relatively weak properties. Compete.com shows that in March, 2011 Nolo had 498,769 unique visitors ( an 8% decline for the year), ALLLAW.com  had 190,069 unique visitors, (for the of March, 2011); AttorneyLocate.com was especially weak with only 18,277 unique visitors (for the month of March, 2011). Internet Brands also owns ExpertHub, which in turn manages web sites in verticals markets such as dentists, plastic surgery, accountants, tummy tuck, and of course lawyers. The ExpertHub site for lawyers only generates 96,289 unique visitors a month (March, 2011), so I wonder if that level of traffic is high enough to support their advertising rates.

There is irony in the fact that LegalZoom, a company that prides itself on offering  legal solutions from a non-law firm generates more traffic than any of the sites mentioned above at 889,762 unique visitors in March, 2011, trailing only Findlaw and Lawyers.com, (both of which offer similar services as the Internet Brands properties).  With the traffic that LegalZoom gets, maybe LegalZoom should consider creating their own lawyers directory for consumers who need just a bit of legal advice to go with their forms to keep them on the right track? I wonder what solos and small law firms would think if LegalZoom moved in that direction?.

It will be interesting to see how Internet Brands integrates these legal properties to leverage the assets in each acquisition as its tries to compete with the likes of Findlaw and Lawyers.com . It will also be interesting to see whether the quality of Nolo’s self help legal content deteriorates under the management of an advertising company that measures results in impressions, clicks, and unique visitors. If Jake Warner, the present CEO stays involved, I am sure the quality of Nolo’s products will remain "top of class."

It’s an odd mix, –the best in class self-help legal book publisher with an excellent reputation, with some less than best in class lawyer directories and a legal information web site. Only time will tell whether this combination will work. (Although Internet Brands may intend to run each of these properties as separate brands, which would help Nolo maintain the quality of it self help legal content).