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Archive for the ‘Unauthorized Practice of Law’ Category

Free Online Course on Digital Law Practice

06 Feb

The Center for Computer-Assisted Legal InstructionThe Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI) is offering a free online course on digital law practice, primarily for law students and law professors, but anyone can register.

 

I don’t doubt that most law faculty will find these topics to be irrelevant, but its connecting with law students, as over 500 law students have registered nationwide.

For lawyers interested in delivering legal services online, this course would be a good introduction to the subject.

The first session is February 10 at 2-3 EST. Stephanie Kimbro is doing a session on the virtual law office.

Later in the course, Marc Lauritsen is doing a session on document automation, and I am doing a session on “unbundling legal services”.

Here are some of the other sessions:

Week 5: Online Legal Forms in Legal Aid
Friday, Mar. 9, 2-3pm ET
Ronald W. Staudt, Professor of Law, Chicago-Kent College of Law

Week 6: Contract Standardization
Friday, Mar. 16, 2-3pm ET
Kingsley Martin, President, kiiac.com & contractstandards.com

Week 7: Free Legal Research Tools
Friday, Mar. 23, 2-3pm ET
Sarah Glassmeyer, Director of Content Development / Law Librarian, CALI

Week 8: Unauthorized Practice of Law in the 21st Century
Friday, Mar. 30, 2-3pm ET
William Hornsby, Staff Counsel at American Bar Association

Week 9: Social Media for Lawyers
Friday, Apr. 6, 2-3pm ET
Ernest Svenson, Attorney at Law

Here is the course description and the registration page:

http://www.cali.org/blog/2012/01/25/free-online-course-digital-law-practice

 

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.

 

 

Beware of Legal Mythology!

21 Aug
Lawsuit Self-Help ... Step-by-Step

 

Many today are angry at our justice system, and many of them have good cause to be angry!

But, some are too angry!

Their anger will hurt you!

They are out of control!

They teach falsehoods!

They’re that angry!

That’s how you know them.

They are not your friend!

Their “legal theories” fail.

They are blinded by rage.

Believe them at your peril.

Angry people can rarely be trusted, and that is never more true than when they try to get you to join them in their angry legal theories that run contrary to the rules that control our courts.

#1 For example, a nice fellow called me the other day and ended up screaming at me because I refused to go along with his idea that our birth certificates are some kind of “contract”. In the first place, the most fundamental truth about contracts is that no “contract” can bind a party who doesn’t understand the agreement. Even if we were able to understand the alleged binding nature of our birth certificate at the moment of our birth, we didn’t sign the thing! Some doctor did, probably. We cannot be bound by a contract we don’t understand, and certainly not one we didn’t enter into. Yet, this nice man screamed at me for refusing to help him storm the hated walls of justice for him and take up his cause to fight the dragons!

#2 Another strange legal myth that’s come around in the last few months is that one can “copyright” his or her own name and thereby prevent the courts from using their name on any court papers. Duh! Anger does twist the mind in strange ways! But, to think one can prevent others from using his or her name by “copyrighting” the name is utter nonsense.

I want you to win.

You cannot win relying on nonsense!

#3 A few are absolutely convinced that our courts are “sitting in admiralty” and therefore cannot rule in common law or statute. But, the fact is that pretty much any court can rule in admiralty cases, if the issue before them is one that involves navigation or the rights of seagoing workers or dockside stevedores. Contract disputes, negligence cases, foreclosure, and other matters are absolutely notadmiralty cases, and the courts that hear such cases are not “sitting in admiralty” … no matter whether there’s a yellow fringe on the flag in the corner or not.

#4 More than a few seem to have made a “religion” out of believing such things. Many claim to be “patriots”, yet do all they can to evade the Rule of Law and refuse to do much of anything toward learning the principles of due process so many gave their lives to protect in past and present wars! This group of people get together to talk about how horrible things are but spend very little effort learning how to make things better by learning the rules!

I know people are hurting.

I’ve been helping thousands upon thousands of good people get justice in the courts since 1997 when I first put Jurisdictionary on the internet. It wasn’t much back then, but I’ve been doing all I can to make it better each year and will do the best I can to continue in the months and years to come.

But!

If you choose to believe the lies, God help you!

Lies are what we’re fighting to overcome.

Overcoming lies is what the rules are all about!

Please don’t get me wrong. I want to help those who are angry, as well as those who are being destroyed by crooked bankers, corrupt judges, lying lawyers, and the hosts of darkness that never seem to give up in their quest to destroy all that’s good and wholesome in this world we live in.

But!

YOU … that’s right … YOU cannot afford to believe the lies if you want to get justice in our courts!

Your birth certificate is not a contract.

You are who you are, no matter whether your name is spelled in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS or all small letters or written out in script with a ball-point pen!

And, as far as our courts go, nobody (and I do mean nobody) knows better than I do about the corruption of some judges or the stealth and trickery that lawyers use to twist the truth to their own advantage.

But, being angry won’t help.

The only thing that will help is learning how to use the rules that control the courts, rules that stop corruption, rules that require judges to grant justice, rules that were paid for by far too much innocent blood already.

Please join Jurisdictionary in our effort to uplift the hopes and determination of the American People and even people in other nations around the world where justice is for sale to the highest bidder and good, honest people are sacrificed on the altar of money!

Someone once said, “The truth will set you free!”

If YOU believe that … if you really believe it … then you will join the work of Jurisdictionary to reach people who are being destroyed all too often simply because they are believing the legal mythology so rampant on the internet, in our daily emails, and even in weekend seminars a few amateurs here and there are putting on for those foolish enough to pay.

There’s never been but one way to win any contest!

Either you cheat … or you use the rules to your own advantage.

Cheaters don’t win all that often.

Food for thought?

– – – – – – – –

Winning is EASY once you know the rules and how to use them effectively!

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

Don’t let anyone intimidate you into thinking lawsuits are too complicated for mere mortals to grasp or deceive you into thinking all lawyers are smarter than the rest of the human race … ’cause it ain’t so!

Anyone can learn the rules required to win!

Anyone!

You simply need to start with a clear view of the field of play, the object of the game, and the rules that control all the players … including judges and lawyers!

It IS simple … as many thousands have learned!

In the 13 years since I launched Jurisdictionary I’ve found the most debilitating factor that infects good people with hopelessness is the fear that comes from lack of knowing how the game of litigation is played to win!

Not knowing creates fear.

Knowledge displaces fear with the confidence!

Take any apparently complicated thing apart to examine its component parts and you quickly see how they all fit together. When you first begin, it seems impossible.

But!

If someone shows you how each separate part works with each of the other parts, even the most complicated things are suddenly easy-to-understand. The mystery my profession has woven disappears!

Every one of you has great legal power!

Sadly, many good people never discover the power that is theirs … so people who know how to use the rules of court and the law of the case take advantage of them!

Jurisdictionary wants to turn the tables on crooked lawyers and biased judges and protect the “little guys and gals” that are being taken advantage of simply because no one has ever come out with a course like this. No one has ever cared enough to tell you the truth. No one has ever made it this easy-to-understand!

It is easy-to-understand how to win in court once you see things the way I teach them!

The full details you need to know are in my affordable step-by-step Jurisdictionary course.

To learn more, go to: www.Jurisdictionary.com

Click this link to watch a FREE VIDEO.

============================

My affordable 24-hour step-by-step lawsuit self-help course includes:

  • 5-hour video CD simplifies process of litigation
  • 2 audio CDs present tactics and procedures
  • 15 tutorials on a 4th CD go beyond the basics
  • Free EasyGuide to the Rules of Court
  • Temporary online access while CDs in Mail

Still Only $249 (plus $7.50 for Priority Mail S&H)

Control judges!

Save legal fees!

Defeat crooked lawyers!

www.Jurisdictionary.com

Ask anyone who has it: Jurisdictionary Works!

Call Toll Free for details: 866-Law-Easy

Get your competitive edge before the price increase.

Force judges to enforce the rules, instead of allowing the lawyer on the other side twist the law against you!

You cannot win if you don’t know how to control the judge and all the lawyers (including your own lawyer, if you can afford to pay one to go to court for you)!

You’ve heard the horror stories from others.

Don’t let it happen to you!

Order my course now, if you don’t already have it.

Know the rules and how to force everyone to obey!

Know how to draft proper pleadings, how to get your own evidence in the court’s record, how to keep the other side from getting their evidence in, how to move the court to enter orders favorable to your cause, and how to use your Jurisdictionary legal know-how and case-winning strategies to control the judge and win your case!

My self-help course is presented in such an easy format people tell us an 8th grader can learn it in just 24 hours!

Know what you must know to win!

Stop courtroom corruption!

I’ll show you how in just 24-hours … step-by-step!

Control judges and lawyers – or lose!

My “Tips & Tactics” newsletters are only introductions to the complete course you need to win. If you don’t already have my 24-hour step-by-step self-help course, go to my website and order now!


www.Jurisdictionary.com

As Woody Guthrie used to sing, “This Land is our Land,” and that includes every courtroom and every courthouse from San Diego to Bangor, Maine. Why let lawyers control our lives with trickery? Why let judges destroy our lives by letting lawyers get away with their trickery?

YOU CAN WIN!

Forward this article to ALL YOUR FRIENDS!

If you aren’t involved in a lawsuit or threatened with one today, learn what my course teaches and help others who will be destroyed by all-too-common courtroom corruption if YOU don’t help them learn what it takes to win!

There are more than 150 lawsuits filed every minute in the United States – nearly 100 million each year. Try to imagine how many thousands of good, honest people will be destroyed in the next 7 days just because they have no idea how to protect themselves and have nobody they can trust (or afford) to help them win!

Urge everyone to get my affordable 24-hour course!

Do it for your nation … and for your children!

Dr. Frederick David Graves, JD

Jurisdictionary

 

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

 

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

 

 
8 Comments

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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?

 

 

Should law firms be owned by non-lawyer investors?

19 May

There has been much discussion recently in various venues about whether 5.4 of the US Rules of Professional Responsibility should be amended or revised to permit investment in law firms by non-lawyer, or non-lawyer entities, or even ownership of US law firms by non-lawyer entities. The ABA’s Ethics 20/20 Commission is circulating a paper on the subject and is soliciting comments.

Known in the United Kingdom as Alternative Business Structures (ABS), this new form of law firm organization, authorized by the UK Legal Services Act of 2007,  will be permitted after October 6, 2011. Alternative Business Structures are already permitted in Australia, where several law firms have already gone public.

Other than the State of North Carolina where there is bill pending to permit non-lawyer ownership of up to 40% of a law firm, there has been little movement in the US to make change Rule 5.4 Some hybrid models are beginning to emerge in the US,  but they are a workaround the existing rules.

There is no clear path for non-lawyer ownership or investment in a law firm in the United States, and as a result it is arguable that the legal services delivery system lacks the capital necessary to innovate and create the efficient systems that are necessary to serve not only the "latent market for legal services", but existing legal markets more effectively.

Now comes Jacoby & Meyers, a law firm that has pioneered in changing the way legal services are delivered, filing multiple law suits in the Federal District courts of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut against the presiding state justices in those states responsible for implementing and enforcing Rule 5.4, requesting that the Rule by overturned. The Complaint makes clear that Jacoby & Meyers "seeks to free itself of the shackles that currently encumber its ability to raise outside financing and to ensure that American law firms are able to compete on the global stage"

Click here for a complete version of the Complaint.

Andrew Finkelstein, the Managing Partner of Jacoby & Meyers, and also the Managing Partner of Finkelstein & Partners, said that "No legitimate rationale exists to prevent non-lawyers from owning equity in a law firm. The time has come to permit non-lawyers to invest in law firms in the United States,"

Now the fun begins!

Disclosure: Finkelstein and Partners is a subscriber to our  DirectLaw Virtual Law Firm Service.

 

 

 

 

 

LegalZoom is Considering an IPO

22 Mar

Apparently LegalZoom is in the early stages of planning an IPO, (going public),  according to an unnamed source at VentureBeat. Employing more that 500 employees, and having raised over $45 million in venture capital over the last few years, LegalZoom is clearly the leading non-lawyer legal document preparation web site. This is a good example of a disruptive innovation in the delivery of legal solutions by a non-lawyer provider that continues to eat away at the market share of solo practitioners and small law firms.

Focusing on a market that is not served well by the legal profession, in the same way that Southwest Airlines first targeted people who traveled by bus, rather than by air because air travel was too expensive, LegalZoom is will undoubtedly figure out a way to move up the value chain, capturing even more complex business from law firms, without actually giving legal advice.

In the United States, because the definition of what constitutes the "unauthorized practice of law" is so vague. (perhaps unconstitutionally vague),  it would seem that even though LegalZoom does not actually provide legal advice, it would be prohibited from assembling legal documents, even when the document assembly is purely software-driven. 

The reality is that bar associations have a tough case to make against a non-lawyer provider when no actual legal advice is given. UPL statutes haven’t been truly tested on the issue of whether a non-lawyer can assemble legal documents without actually giving legal advice. In Florida, when the issue came up, there was a compromise between the bar and non-lawyer providers and non-lawyers can help a consumer complete court forms as long as no legal advice is provided. It gets murky when you move beyond courts forms, to more complex transactional documents such as a will,  a living trust, or a marital separation agreement, even if the user is making the selection through a software driven questionnaire. Some UPL advocates, have argued that the selection of alternative clauses is still UPL, because a person had to "program" the clauses. There is some precedent for this position, but the State of Texas on the other hand, specifically excludes software driven document assembly from the "unauthorized practice of law., provided there there are disclaimers which state "clearly and conspicuously that the products are not the substitute for the advice of an attorney."

I think the risk portion of the prospectus will make for fascinating reading, particularly since in many states UPL is a felony. I can just visualize this language: "Investors should be aware that the company may be violating unauthorized practice of law statutes in many states, and as a result, if convicted, one or more executive officers may be required to serve time in the pokey."

In the interest of full disclosure,  Epoq US,  of which I am President, and which is the parent company of DirectLaw, also provides legal document preparation services over the web directly to consumers through a network of legal web sites    So perhaps I should be worried as well.

 

LawPivot: Another Legal Advice Web Site

29 Jan

Another interesting start-up has emerged out of Silicon Valley to provide crowdsourced legal advice to other start-ups for free.

Vertical Q&A web sites seems to be the next new thing among venture capital investors. Even Facebook  rolled out this year a crowd-sourced Q&A service.

LawPivot, a legal Q&A web site founded in 2009,  hopes to fill a niche by providing legal advice to the founders of start-up and early stage high-tech companies based in California at a legal fee they can afford — FREE.   Legal advice is provided by an experienced network of high-priced business law attorneys, recruited from the top 200 hundred or so law firms, who hope to pick up new clients by entering into discussions by providing free legal advice services to start-up companies.

Free legal advice or the “free consult” has been employed by lawyers for years, pre-Internet, as a tried and true marketing strategy for acquiring new clients. Now many lawyers are beginning to offer free legal advice online from their web sites directly. See for example,  VirtualEsq.Com . By next year there will be hundreds of these free legal advice services offered directly by lawyers from their web sites as the virtual law firm movement begins to scale.

However, free legal advice from an individual law firm’s web site, is not the same thing as a vertical web site that aggregates answers from many lawyers, giving consumers a wider variety of responses to their particular situation.

Free legal advice online is not a completely new idea. FreeAdvice has been doing it for years, and consumers can get answers to their basic legal questions from sites such as AVVO, RocketLawyer, and JustAnswer. What is new, is that LawPivot provides through its network of lawyers “real” legal advice that applies to the client’s particular situation, as distinguished from merely legal information. And this advice is reputedly to be "high quality" given the stature of the lawyers recruited to the LawPivot network.

However, genuine legal advice, [as distinguished from “legal advice” that is characterized as “legal information” ],  like any legal service, has to be delivered in an ethically compliant way requiring that the client’s information be kept confidential, that an attorney/client relationship be established, and that the attorney providing the legal advice be a member of the bar within the jurisdiction  where the client is located. Presumably LawPivot is addressing these issues. The LawPivot service is presently limited to California, but the company, according to its representations, plans to expand nationwide.

Although the company recently raised $600,000 from Google Ventures, the venture capital arm of Google, after a $400,0000 round from from a group of angel investors, it will be interesting to see how or whether it survives. At this point, neither the clients are charged for legal advice, nor are the participating attorneys charged an advertising fee. So there is no revenue, and apparently no business model. However, I doubt that the investors thought they were making  charitable contributions, so there must be a business model lurking in the background somewhere?

Unfortunately, the only business model that is ethically compliant in the US, is one where the participating lawyers pay an advertising fee to play (get listed) and get exposure. Splitting legal advice fees between a law firm and a non-law firm , is a big “No, No” and an ethical prohibition that exposes the participating attorneys to bar sanctions which could lead to disbarment.   Perhaps because Google is now involved as a major backer of  LawPivot , and the company is planning to move to the GooglePlex campus start-up incubator,  "they can do no wrong.!"

Many other Western common law jurisdictions, like the United Kingdom, have abolished the division of fees, but the rules against splitting fees with non-lawyers remains sacrosanct  in the US, on the theory that splitting fees would compromise the independent judgment of the attorney. However, in the UK, lawyers are permitted to work for a profit-making company and provide legal advice directly to consumers, and no one seems to be complaining about compromised judgment. [ See: FirstAssist in the UK  for an example ].

Charging clients an administrative fee to “use” the web site, as an alternative revenue source, has been tried before in an earlier Internet era, and it failed then. [ e.g. AmeriCounsel ]. I doubt that this model will work today when consumers are expecting everything on the web to be for free.

I think it is a good sign that innovation is happening in the legal industry, and that private capital is finally looking for a way to get a return by investing in the delivery of legal services. [See: Total Attorneys Receives Multi-Million Dollar Investment ].

I would like to see companies like LawPivot thrive, but at this point I don’t see the juice.  Are advertising revenues sufficient to make this venture sustainable, or has LawPivot  figured out another legitimate source of revenue that doesn’t violate US ethical prohibitions? Only time will tell.

 

 

Will LegalZoom Become the Largest Law Firm in the US?

05 Jan

 

LegalZoom has been beta testing a concept which links its marketing capabilities to a network of law firms that offer legal services under the LegalZoom brand. With some state bar associations accusing LegalZoom of  the unauthorized practice of law,  it might makes sense for the company to seek deeper alliances with networks of attorneys who are able to offer a full and ethically compliant legal service. Solos and small law firms, leveraging off the visibility and prominence of the LegalZoom brand, could reduce their marketing costs and enable these firms to better capture consumers who are part of the “latent legal market”  on the Internet. It could be a win/win for both parties.

Unfortunately, linking the capital and management resources of profit-making organization with private law firms is almost impossible in the United States, given the regulatory framework that governs law practice. Unlike, the United Kingdom, which is in the process of deregulating the legal profession, enabling profit-making companies, from banks  and insurance companies to retail chains like Tesco,  to actually own a law firm, and/or split legal fees with a non-law firm, these practices in the US are strictly taboo.

In the US, law directories can charge a flat marketing fee for a listing, but sharing legal fees with a marketing organization can get you disbarred.

During the dot-com boom around 1999-2000, a company emerged by the name of AmeriCounsel that tried to create a hybrid organizational structure similar to the LegalZoom experiment. The company sought to enable a network of attorneys to offer legal services at a fixed and reasonable price and to mediate between the consumer and the law firm in terms of guaranteeing the quality of the legal services offered. The company failed during the dot-com bust for various reasons, including lack of financing, but on the way to failure, secured some opinions from state bar associations that blessed their model and provides a blue print for hybrid delivery systems which combine the expertise of a law firm with the marketing, management, and technological resources of a non-law firm.

One such opinion was issued by the Nassau County Bar Association New York State.

The Bar Association reasoned that the AmeriCounsel scheme was permissible because:

[S]ince AmeriCounsel does not charge attorneys any fee and since AmeriCounsel does not “recommend” or “promote” the use of any particular lawyer ’s services, it does not fall within the purview of DR 2-103(B) or (D). Rather, AmeriCounsel is a form of group advertising permitted by the Code of Professional Responsibility and by ethics opinions interpreting the Code.

In this model, AmeriCounsel provided technology and administrative services to link the client with the lawyer, but the law firm made no payment to AmeriCounsel. Instead, a separate administrative/technology fee was paid by the consumer to AmericCounsel for using the web site and gaining access to the lawyer. (This is not a practical scheme in today’s web environment, in my opinion), Moreover, AmeriCounsel did not choose the lawyer. The client was able to compare the credentials of different attorneys and choose their own lawyer. Thus no legal referral was involved, which would not be permitted in New York, as only an approved non-profit organization can make legal referrals.

In my opinion, this model, forced on AmeriCounsel, by the Rules of Professional Responsibility, is cumbersome, hard to implement, and was not economically viable for AmeriCounsel. Perhaps this was one of the causes of its failure.

Almost a decade later, companies that want to enter into this kind of hybrid relationship with lawyers, have to follow the same rule structure, as the ABA Model Rules of Professional Responsibility as the rules have not changed in any significant way. changed.  It will be interesting to see whether the ABA Ethics 20/20 Commission, which was set up just last year, will address these issues at all.

Perhaps there should be a “safe harbor” that enables organization’s like LegalZoom to experiment with new patterns of legal service delivery that could operate for a limited period of time in a specific state, like California, The experience would be evaluated carefully as a basis for rule and policy change. The evaluation would be aimed to see if client’s interests are compromised in any way, and whether the delivered legal service is less expensive, without compromising the quality of legal service.

Instead of creating legal profession regulatory policies that are based on the legal profession’s idea about what is good for the consumer, policy could be based on real experience and facts. Experimentation is good. It leads to change, and in other industries improvement of methods and approaches over a period of time.

Of course, I don’t believe that this will ever happen in the US, at least not in my professional lifetime.