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Archive for the ‘unbundled legal services’ 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

 

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.

 

 

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.

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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
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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!
 
Free White Paper on Virtual Law Practice: Success Factors

 

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).

 

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.

 

Applications for the James Keane Award for Excellence in eLawyering Are Still Open.

20 Jan

The eLawyering Task Force of the Law Practice Management Section of the ABA is seeking recommendations and applications for the James Keane Award for Excellence in eLawyering which is awarded annually at ABA Tech Show in Chicago ( April 11-13, 2011). This will be the fourth year that the Award has been made. Previous award winners include Stephanie Kimbro for her work in creating the virtual law firm of KimbroLaw and Lee Rosen of the The Rosen Law Firm (both coincidentally located in North Carolina).

The purpose of this Award is to give recognition to law offices that have developed legal service innovations that are delivered over the Internet. The focus of the Award is on the innovative delivery of personal legal services, with special attention given to firms and entities that serve both moderate income individuals and the broad middle class. 

The Award is technology-focused, in the sense that the Award Committee is seeking innovations that demonstrate the concept of eLawyering – which can be  further defined as the delivery of online legal services. Examples of elawyering include the development of online web advisors, expert systems, innovative uses of web-enabled document automation, on-line client collaboration systems, and on-line dispute settlement systems, to name a few examples.

Nominees may be any individual lawyer, law firm or other deliverer of legal services to individuals within the United States.

The nominee can be a large or small law firm, public or private, or a legal services agency. More than one entry may be submitted, and the Task Force encourages self-nomination. The Application deadline has been extended to March 15, 2011.

For further information and an application form see: http://tinyurl.com/48xvcfq

 

 

What Lawyers Can Learn From LegalZoom

30 Sep

Unless you’ve been asleep for the last five years, you have probably heard of LegalZoom, the California-based, non-lawyer legal document preparation company that claims it has delivered over 1,000,000 wills to consumers, and that it is the largest incorporation company in the country.

LegalZoom is only one of hundreds of Internet-based legal form web sites that have emerged during the last 10 years and which are eating away at the market share of solos and small law firms. LegalZoom has been challenged by some state bars with the unauthorized practice of law, but hasn’t lost a case yet. They are serving thousands of customers who ordinarily would be served by solos and small law firms. They must be doing something that is in demand because they continue to grow at the expense of solos and small law firms.

LegalZoom, and non-lawyer legal form web sites like it, have a business model that consists of the following elements:

  • A legal service delivered purely over the Internet;
  • No physical offices, and thus no extensive rental costs to pass on to customers;
  • Limited services offered at a fixed price that can be easily compared with other providers including law firms;
  • The use of web-enabled document automation technology to reduce costs and increase productivity;
  • A secure customer portal where clients can execute legal tasks in their own personalized web space;
  • Access on their web site to thousands of pages of free legal information on hundreds of subjects;
  • Money-back guarantees to comfort consumers; and
  • Reliance on informed consumers to do part of the work, often called co-production, such as filing their own documents or executing their documents on their own based on provided instructions to keep costs down.

Consumers don’t seem to care that they are not dealing with a law firm. As lawyers, we know the service they are selling is risky for consumers, but for consumers it delivers a “good enough” result. LegalZoom would not be growing at this fast a rate if they weren’t offering something that consumers want and value.

How to Compete Against Legal Zoom and Other Non-Lawyer Providers

In the new, competitive environment that solos and small law firms face in the current economy, the keys to law firm survival are to expand the strategic options available by opening new client markets, reducing the cost of services, and delivering legal services in a way that distinguishes your firm from other firms in the pack. These strategic options should be mixed with more traditional approaches to differentiation such as specialization within a niche practice area.

It is time for solos and small law firms that offer personal legal services to the broad middle class to rethink their law firm business models. There are many opportunities for incorporating some of the elements of the LegalZoom business model into a more traditional law practice.

To name a few:

  • Consider offering "unbundled" limited legal services at a fixed price, both on-line and off-line;
  • Leverage a reputation in your local community and a physical office into an on-line brand that is both local to your community and extends throughout your state;
  • Add virtual law office functionality to your web site so that your clients can have the option of interacting with you on-line;
  • Figure out ways of using Internet-based technologies, such as web-enabled document automation to strip out costs from your overhead structure increasing profitability;
  • Figure out how to segment the market offering lower priced services for more routine matters in order to build trust so that when a client has amore complex problems they will turn to you for assistance;
  • Emphasize all of the advantages of using an attorney over a non-lawyer forms provider in your marketing materials and your elevator speech. Click here to see one such comparison.
  • Use web-based technologies to respond to both prospects and clients within hours rather than days.
  • Reduce the perceived risk that consumers have in retaining a lawyer by increasing transparency and structuring forms of performance guarantees.
  • Adopt project management technologies to better estimate costs and fees on more complex projects, translating that data into communications that clients understand.

The current depressed economy and its affect on the broad middle class is not going to change tomorrow. It is likely that solos and small law firms, will have to adjust to new pricing and market realities in the future as competition from non-lawyer providers of legal solutions continues to increase. Large law firms serving large corporations may be immune from these developments, at least for a few years any way, but the fact that Big Law is changing relatively slowly should not mask the rapid changes happening to solos and small law firm practitioners that serve consumers and small business.

I heard a report the other day that the volume of wills and estates practice in one state declined by 50% during the past year. I predict that this trend will continue and not reverse itself, despite any improvements in the economy.

Some commentators think that the monopoly will hold. History and the experience of other countries in deregulating the legal profession suggests otherwise.

Welcome to the "new normal."