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Lawyers Delivering Legal Services OnLine

What are Client-Centric Legal Services?

Posted in Document Automation, eLawyering Events, Law Firm Productivity, Limited Scope Legal Services

client-centricThe American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services, with the ABA Legal Access Job Corps Task Force and the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) is convening a national conference in Denver, Colorado on August 14-15, 2015  titled: Client-Centric Legal Services: Getting From Here to There.  The conference will have special value to practitioners who provide personal and small business legal services, bar leaders, judges and court administrators, legal educators, Access to Justice Commission members and staff, and incubator directors and law school clinicians. The focus of the conference is to explore new law firm business models that can enhancement engagement, re-define lawyer value, and pivot practitioners into 21st Century problem-solvers.

So what are client-centric legal services? 

The concept of client-centric legal services is part of a consumer revolution that puts the purchaser at the center of a commercial transaction shifting power from supplier to consumer. Power in the legal profession has always been on the supply side, but the legal profession is not immune from the consumer revolution and the demand by consumers for more transparency, information,  and control over the lawyer-client relationship. Consumers want fixed fee pricing so they can control their legal expenses and when possible be a co-producer of legal services to keep legal fees reasonable and manageable. This translates into “unbundled legal services” or “limited legal services”, powered by online delivery systems.

Internet based applications that either enhance the client’s understanding of their legal rights, or enable them to represent themselves with the assistance of an attorney, are examples of client-centric legal services.

A short list would include:

A law firm web site that consists of information only about a lawyer’s practice and biographies of the law firm’s lawyers is not client centric because it is solely focused on the supplier and provides no tools that empower the client as consumer.

Here are good examples of client-centric law firm web sites: The Rosen Law Firm in North Carolina – a family law firm; and The Baker Law Firm – an estate planning firm also in North Carolina.

Large law firms and their corporate clients are not immune from these developments as Big Law seeks to provide tools that enable corporate legal departments to service their internal clients more effectively.

For example Seyfarth and the Littler, Mendelson law firm  are developing expert systems applications on the NeotaLogic platform that can be used by their clients to more efficiently access legal advice at low cost. See Human Resources Compliance Application.

Prof. Stephanie Kimbro, author of The Consumer Revolution: The Lawyer’s Guide to the On-Line Legal Marketplace   predicts that:

“The client-centric law firms that are transparent in their business practices and provide communication and delivery methods that clients expect from professionals in any industry will be the firms that survive in our quickly changing legal marketplace.”

To learn more about creating client-centric law firms, register for the Denver conference, here.

FTC Disclosures:
I am a speaker at the ABA Denver Conference and I am also a liaison member of the ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services, and the company I am CEO of- DirectLaw – provides a virtual law firm platform for solo and small law firms that enables these firms to deliver legal services online.

The Uberization of Legal Services

Posted in Law Startups, Limited Scope Legal Services, Unbundled Legal Services

The unberization of the legal professionThe legal profession will not be immune from the rise of the uberized economy. Consumers want to purchase only the legal services they need. This means that the trend towards offering “unbundled” or “limited legal services” will continue to accelerate as the most economical way for consumers to purchase legal service is by the “task”, rather than the hour.

Think of “task rabbit for legal services” – legal services at the click of a button on your smartphone.

The new virtual marketplaces connecting lawyers with clients for the purchase of specific legal tasks will also accelerate this trend. These legal marketplaces are a response to the inefficiency of bar-sponsored legal referral programs (the subject of another blog post to come), and the desire of consumers to have a more transparent way of selecting attorneys to solve their legal problems. The last few years has seen the ascendency of these legal marketplace platforms.

To name just a few of these new legal marketplaces, look at:

  • Avvo  – “Get legal advice from a top-reviewed lawyer on the phone – $39.00 for 15 minutes.”
  • Bridge.US – “Top attorneys and easy-to-use software that make immigration delightfully simple”
  • DirectLawConnect – “FInd a fixed fee online lawyer in your state now.”
  • Fixed – “The easiest way to fix a parking ticket”
  • Hire an Esquire – “Legal staffing redefined online.”
  • LawDingo – “You won’t believe how simple and affordable it is to get a lawyer;s help.” “$50 for a telephone consultation. Other projects for a fixed fee.”
  • LawGo – On Demand lawyers for a fixed fee in personal and small business matters.
  • LawGives – “Get free quotes and consultations from trusted lawyers in 100+ cities”
  • LegalHero – “Law Done Better. Experienced attorneys for your business at clear, upfront prices. ”  “No hourly rates. No retainers.”
  • LawKick – “Find the right lawyer at the right price”
  • LawNearMe – “Law Near Me offers an attorney referral service to help you find the legal representation you need in a variety of areas.” “ZocDoc for lawyers”
  • LawZam -“Free legal consultations by video-conference.”
  • LegalZoom – “Find an attorney you can trust for your family for $9.99 a month”
  • PrioriLaw – “lawyers hand-picked for your business.”
  • RocketLawyer – “Legal Made Simple”
  • SmartUpLegal – “Quality Legal For Startups and Business.”
  • UpCounsel – “Hire a great attorney for your business. Fixed fee projects”

Some seek to link consumers with lawyers who charge their regular hourly rates, but the marketplaces that will scale are those that offer limited legal services for a fixed fee, ideally powered by technology to keep legal fees low. These new vertical marketplaces will serve what Richard Susskind has called, “the latent market for legal services.”, but in the fullness of time, the “limited legal services” approach will move up the value curve serving small business and eventually larger business entities and more affluent clients.

Not all will survive as many cannot generate the traffic to justify the fees charged to lawyers or consumers to participate in a particular platform. Survivors will be those platforms that can generate consumer traffic and which can scale their offerings. A likely winner could be AVVO as it leverages its huge consumer traffic and large lawyer data base into delivering legal services for a fixed fee.

Some larger law firms will adopt this independent contractor labor model using contracted labor to perform tasks for their clients. This is already happening in the United Kingdom. See: Lawyers on Demand; RiverviewLaw; and Peerpoint from Allen & Overy

The services that will scale the most will be smart legal software applications that can do a task for the fraction of the fee that a lawyer can charge for the same work.

As the idea of offering limited legal services goes mainstream, powered by these new marketplaces, consumers will benefit through more affordable, accessible, fast, and transparent legal services.

The legal profession, particularly solos and small law firm practitioners, will not benefit as much as the consumers they serve. Here are some of the negative consequences:

  • A downward pressure on legal fees;
  • More competition for solos and small law firm practitioners;
  • Lawyers will have less or no social structure to support collaboration and cross-communication with peers;
  • Newly admitted lawyers will lack the training and professional development structure for them to really learn how to practice law. (as law schools don’t really train lawyers to practice law).
  • Less organizationally sponsored fringe benefits for lawyers.
  • Loss of control of a client base, as clients are attracted and owned by the new legal marketplaces;
  • Reduction in the size of the legal profession as it becomes harder to make a living as a lawyer, with a consequent reduction in the number of law schools – particularly those that turn out lawyers for solo and small practice but continue to teach the a purely doctrinal approach to law and law practice.

Recent litigation in California where California judges have rule that the issue of whether drivers for Uber and Lyft are independent contractors or employees will have to be decided by a jury suggest that the new  rules the apply to the new ‘sharing economy” are not so clear. It will be interesting to see at some point in the future whether a group of lawyers -so-called independent contractors- might sue their platform provider or an AxiomLaw, on the theory that that the platform that they are using exercises so much control that they are really employees and entitled to the benefits of being an employee. See generally:  1099 vs. W-2 Employee Classification Infographic from Hire An Esquire.

Surely, the legal services industry is continuing to evolve driven by Internet-based innovations.

Software Eats the Legal Profession

Posted in Cloud Computing, Competition, Document Automation, Expert Systems, Legal Advice Online, Self-Help Law


Marc Andreessen quipped in 2011: “Software is eating the world”.

We are already seeing how Andreesen’s prediction is working its way through the legal profession.

Predictive coding continues to make inroads in eDiscovery demonstrating that software analysis is more accurate and faster that hordes of associate lawyers clicking on documents on screens. Companies such as Recommind are leading the way.

Last week I attended  Conference at Georgetown Law School, co-sponsored by the ABA Journal, called: From Revolution to Evolution: Digital Tools in Legal Practice where a variety of new legal applications were discussed that replace the labor of an attorney.  In the hands of an attorney , this software results in faster, cheaper, and better legal work.

One panel, that I was honored to participate in featured Kingsley Martin from KMStandards and Noah Waisberg from KiraSystems formerly DiligenceEngine. Both demonstrated software applications that expedited the document review process in transactional work and rationalized the document creation process. Like predictive coding in eDiscovery these software tools will replace some of the work of associate lawyers in larger law firms leading to a smaller employment force that works more effectively. As Mr. Martin points out — legal software can be good, and lawyers can be good, but lawyers using legal software are best.

The day before this conference,  Georgetown Law School, under the leadership of Tanina Rostain , held their Iron Tech Lawyer competition, for the third year in a row.  Law students show case legal expert systems that have created using the NeotaLogic legal expert systems platform .This student work is impressive as I witnessed software applications generating legal advice to complex questions with more accuracy that your average lawyer and at the speed of light.

We are still at the beginning of the beginning of these developments, but the pace of change is likely to be more rapid than we think. If you want to become more aware of an impending tsunami of legal disruption read John O. McGinnis and  Russell G. Pearces’ law review article in Fordham Law Review, titled, The Great Disruption: How Machine Intelligence Will Transform the Role of Lawyers in the Delivery of Legal Services

On the other end of the legal spectrum from Big Law, there is an estimated $40 billion latent market for consumer legal services yet to be served by lawyers. In 2013, two-thirds (66%) of a random sample of adults in a middle-sized American city reported experiencing at least one of 12 categories of civil justice situations in the previous 18 months. The most commonly reported kinds of situations involved bread and butter issues with far-reaching impacts: problems with employment, money (finances, government benefits, and debts), insurance, and housing.  Most consumers handle these problems on their own, or do nothing.  Moderate income people rarely seek assistance from lawyers to deal with these legal problems. Either legal fees are too high or they do not understand their problems to be legal.  80% of the U.S. consuming public can’t afford legal fees.  This is the often discussed Justice Gap in America that is the subject of an ABA Presidential Commission on the Future of Legal Services and a National Summit on Innovation in Legal Services to be held at Stanford Law School next week on May 2-4, 2015. [See Agenda and Schedule Here. ]

Figuring out ways to have more lawyers serve this latent market at affordable prices has proved to be a challenge. My own view is that scalable solutions must be software solutions. There is ample evidence that software alone can solve the legal problems of everyday consumers. Last year 600,000 users assemble legal documents and resolved their problems without lawyer assistance in over 40 states with the support of the U.S. Legal Services Corporation through Law Help Interactive and legal services programs in those states. This number will continue to increase. Other private legal software companies, such as ShakeLaw, continue to enter the market that offer pure software solutions to the resolution of legal problems at low or no cost.

I often hear lawyers say these solutions are inferior. Last week I also attended in Chicago, an American Bar Association School on UPL and participated in a panel on UPL and new technology. I argued that since the legal profession wasn’t serving 80% of consumers anyway so we should continue to experiment with legal software solutions. There was push back from this group, with some participants arguing that automated legal advice could be the unauthorized practice of law. I argued that in the interest of access to justice we should have a safe harbor that encourages legal software development for consumers, if there were sufficient warnings to the consumer they were not dealing with a lawyer, but a software application.

One state, Texas, has famously passed such an exception to their definition of the practice of law which reads:

In this chapter, 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.’

I pitched to this group of UPL officials the idea I would like to see this exception to the definition of the practice of adopted in every state. My rationale is that it would remove a potential barrier to innovation and encourage the development of Internet-based software applications that could help close the Justice Gap. The response was underwhelming.

ibm_watsonDespite these constraints, legal software will continue to eat away at the lawyer’s market share. Where there is demand, entrepreneurs will find a way.  IBM’s Watson has demonstrated that it could beat the two world Jeopardy champions- not a trivial matter.



More relevant a team of law students at the University of Toronto students has created ROSS on the Watson platform to conduct legal research.  ROSS is not only for lawyers. It can be used by consumers to do their own legal research.

Lawyers who deny the power of these software applications to solve legal problems, and the exponential rate of change, have their heads in the sand,



H&R Block Forced to Shut Down Immigrant Document Service by the Bar

Posted in Change, Competition, Legal Ethics, Unauthorized Practice of Law

H&R Block launched an experimental and innovative service in Texas in January to assist immigrants in completing H&R BlockUSCIS forms. The forms were powered by software and H&R Block’s role was to provide a service to assist users in completing the forms within their offices– , but no legal advice was to be provided.

It didn’t take long for the organized immigration bar to shut this service down.

Here is a report from Crystal Williams, Executive Director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association to the Board of Directors of AILA about their efforts to make sure that H&R Block would not compete with the immigration bar:

“H&R BlockAs many of you are aware, this large national tax preparer had been advertising an “immigration document service,” apparently as a pilot program in Houston. After some quiet diplomacy, H&R Block has agreed to cancel the program and remove any advertising related to it.  They are in the process of removing what is out there on it.  If, after another week, you or other members still see anything at a physical site, on the internet, or elsewhere about it, please let me know.”

“In addition, we had a meeting with another large national accounting firm that had been contemplating something similar, and it appears that they too will not be pursuing it.  We will continue to work on this issue with other firms that seem poised to cross the UPL line.  Chapter chairs, please feel free to share this with your members.”

It’s not clear where there is any UPL violation, as the Immigrant Assistants were simply helping users navigate through the software rather than provide any legal advice.  It is well documented there is a huge demand for legal assistance and that the immigration bar only serves a small proportion of the total demand as most immigrants can’t afford the fees that immigration lawyers charge. For this reason that there is well documented fraud abuse by “notarios”, as scam artists move to service immigrants with services that are over-priced, fraudulent, and inadequate.

On the other hand, we have a Fortune 500 company that attempts to provide a needed service to fulfill this gap in service with the idea that evaluation and assessment would in the fullness of time result in a limited and valuable service that is software-powered, not unlike the tax preparation service that H&R Block provides to millions of Americans. Rather than permit this experiment, the organized bar moved quickly to intimidate Block into shutting this service down.

ftcNo wonder there is little innovation in the delivery of legal services to consumers. No wonder consumers hate lawyers. Non-lawyers helping pro se litigants navigate through intelligent and smart software is hardly the practice of law, and it is, as Prof. Renee Knake argues, a protected First Amendment right.

Where are you —  U.S. Federal Trade Commission?

Surely there must be opportunities to experiment in the use software technologies to close the access to justice gap in America without interference by the organized bar. Regulation of legal services is too important to be left only to the lawyers. It is time to think about alternative schemes to regulate the delivery of legal services that involved interests other than protecting the income of the legal profession – despite the continued claim by the legal profession that their only interest is protecting the public from harm. There is little evidence to support that claim.


FebArb: Innovation in ADR

Posted in Change

Ifedarbt’s no secret that the Federal court system is broken, Understaffed and overworked Federal U.S. District Court judges rarely hold trials any more – encouraging the parties to settle and keep their conflicts out of the Federal courts. Trials when required by the parties, take forever to be scheduled. Justice delayed, is no justice at all.

Traditional arbitration can be arbitrary.

A clause which often appears in an agreement to arbitrate states that:

“The Arbitrators and Umpire are relieved from all judicial formality and may abstain from following the strict rules of law. They shall settle any dispute under this Agreement according to an equitable rather than a strictly legal interpretation of its terms.”

Traditional arbitration in commercial disputes claims to offer benefits of speed and cost lower than a jury trial. But if the outcome of an arbitration is often arbitrary, the benefits of traditional arbitration are limited.

Now comes FedArb – a new hybrid model, part private court, part arbitration tribunal as an alternative  to traditional arbitration.

Founded by  Abraham D. Sofaer, a retired Federal Judge,  FebArb provides as arbitrators  —  retired Federal Judges  with a new set of rules modeled on the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure . These rules, and FedArb reliance on experienced judges, and commitment to follow precedent, bring principled decision-making back to the arbitration process.

Based in Palo Alto, the heart of Silicon Valley, FedArb provides its services through an on-line platform that is designed to ensure that all of the parties stick to deadlines and that disputes are resolved as quickly as possible. Fixed fee arbitration is also an option that is designed to limit the cost of resolving complex disputes.

FedArb has been growing slowly as traditional arbitration organizations are entrenched in arbitration contracts and corporate general counsel are risk adverse and are reluctant to try alternatives, despite the apparent benefits in speed of resolution, lower costs, and the potential for more just and principled outcomes.

Innovations in ADR are likely to move faster in the consumer market space. Modria demonstrates that there is a huge demand for speedy resolution of disputes outside of the courts, and that efficiencies and speed can be greatly enhanced by moving the entire process online.

The future of dispute settlement and conflict resolution is likely to be outside of the court system as innovators such as FedArb and Modria find new ways to resolve conflicts expeditiously and at a lower cost than traditional methods of dispute settlement.


*Disclosure- the author of this block post, Richard S. Granat, is a shareholder in FedArb.


Update on North Carolina Bar’s Resistance to Change

Posted in Change, Competition, Legal Ethics

In a previous post, I discussed the North Carolina’s Bar fight against an amendment to the definition of the practice of law that stated:

“(b) The phrase “practice law” does not encompass any of the following:” … (2) the design, creation, assembly, completion, publication, distribution, display, or sale, including by means of an Internet Web site, of self-help legal written materials, books, documents, templates, 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. “

The moving force behind this amendment to the definition of the practice of law is LegalZoom which is also engaged in litigation with the North Carolina Bar over the same issue

For now, the North Carolina Bar has won this battle. Mobilizing the entire lobbying energy of the North Carolina Bar, the proposed amendment was side-tracked into Committee for further discussion and will die there in this legislative session.

In a confidential communication to bar members, one of the officers of the bar stated that:

“As I am sure you know, LZ has sued the State Bar in an effort to prevent the State Bar from continuing its ongoing efforts intended to halt LZ’s efforts to engage in the unauthorized practice of law.

I think it is important to understand that not all of the products currently offered by Legal Zoom violate the existing prohibition against the unauthorized practice of law. Merely producing and selling legal forms does not violate the prohibition against UPL. Consumers have always been able to purchase legal forms from bookstores, office supply stores and other outlets. The fact that LZ, and others, offer consumers the opportunity to purchase such forms over the Internet rather than from a brick and mortar business does not place them in violation of the prohibition against the unauthorized practice of law.”

“However, LZ’s use of “decision trees” and other such algorithms to create legal documents tailor-made to the individual consumer does present significant concerns and the State Bar has endeavored to prevent LZ from engaging in these activities.”

Talk about a “luddite” mentality — now North Carolina Bar wants to prohibit interactive legal software on the theory this is same as getting as advice from a lawyer. Maybe in the fullness of time getting legal advice and legal forms will be better than getting services from a lawyer. So what is the real justification — full employment for lawyers. The Bar argues that they are protecting the interests of the consumer. But  lawyers in North Carolina only serve the to 25% or so of the population with the remaining the 75% left to their devices. The argument doesn’t hold up. You can’t argue that you are protecting the safety of consumers when you are only serving a small proportion of the addressable market.

The North Carolina Bar has an answer to this.  Realizing that total resistance will expose the Bar to liability (Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Department of Justice, class action suits),  the Bar has proposed this amendment to the definition of the unauthorized practice of law.

Apart from the very narrow scope of this exception, the language kills innovation and access to justice for consumers who can’t afford lawyers is this language:

“The provider does not disclaim any warranties or liability and does not limit the
recovery of damages or other remedies by the consumer; “

This language would apply to any self-help legal materials including self-help law books, legal software on CD/ROM, and web-based interactive legal forms. I don’t know of any legal software publisher that would waive a disclaimer of warranties of liability.

Would TurboTax withdraw its Tax and Legal Products from retailers?
Would Nolo withdraw its self-help books from North Carolina?
Would web services such as http://www.completecase.com stop operating in North Carolina?
Would Amazon stop selling Quicken WillMaker?
Will LawHelpInteractive withdraw its interactive child custody forms?
Will ShakeLaw withdraw its products from North Carolina?
Would our company (SmartLegalForms), close down our North Carolina Divorce Web Site?

An argument can be made that self-help materials (books, software) are publications, and therefore this requirement to waive a disclaimer of liability is a prior restraint on speech and also an attempt to restriction competition. This requirement is a law suit waiting to happen.

Another requirement of the proposed legislation is that:

“The provider does not provide any individualized legal advice to or exercise any legal judgment for the consumer; provided, however, that publishing general information about the law and describing the products offered, when not done to address the consumer’s particular legal situation and when the general information published to every consumer is identical, does not constitute legal advice or the exercise of legal judgment.”

What does this mean? If the North Carolina Bar thinks that interactive software is a form of legal advice, as it appears to be the case, then can’t this language to be interpreted to mean that all interactive legal software that generates a set of legal forms in response to a consumer’s particular set of facts is this practice of law?

The proposed amendment at the beginning of this post is almost identical to the exception to the definition of the practice law passed by the Texas legislature almost 20 years ago. There has been apparently no harmful effect to consumers from this exception to the practice of law. The burden is on the North Carolina Bar to demonstrate with empirical evidence that consumers are harmed by these practices and publications.  The real justification is protecting the incomes of North Carolina lawyers afraid of losing market share to alternative providers.


North Carolina Lawyers Oppose Access to the Legal System

Posted in Change, Document Automation, Expert Systems, Legal Ethics, Self-Help Law, Unauthorized Practice of Law, Web-Enabled Document Assembly

Greedy Lawyers A bill was introduced in the North Carolina legislature that would narrow the definition of the “practice of law” to exclude sell-help legal materials, including books, software, and legal information. [ See House Bill 663 ]. The text of the amendment is:

“(b) The phrase “practice law” does not encompass any of the following:” …  (2) the design, creation, assembly, completion, publication, distribution, display, or sale, including by means of an Internet Web site, of self-help legal written materials, books, documents, templates, 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. “

The bill was reported out favorably of the Senate Committee on June 24, 2014, and will be voted on by the North Carolina Senate on July 9.  The North Carolina Bar Association is opposing passage of the bill.   The real reason for this opposition is  protecting lawyer’s incomes at the expense of easier access to the legal system for consumers. 

Texas has had a similar exemption from the definition of the practice of law for years with no demonstrable harm to the public.

It is well documented that 80% of the U.S. consumer public can’t afford the high cost of legal fees, so self-representation, a constitutional right, is one way for consumers to get access to the legal system. [ North Carolina Const. Art 1 § 18:  [ “All courts shall be open; every person for an injury done him in lands, goods, person, or his reputation shall have remedy by due courts of law, and right and justice shall be administered without favor, denial, or delay.” ].

Self-representation enables consumers to resolve their legal problems at low cost. The U.S. Legal Services Corporation has endorsed this approach and funded over 40 states to enable citizens to assemble their own state-specific documents powered by a national document server managed by LawHelp Interactive.com. The Legal Services Corporation has also supported state-wide legal information Web sites. North Carolina also maintains a state-wide legal information Web site to provide tools to self-represented litigants and a legal forms site sponsored by the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts.  North Carolina has also automated three sets of interactive forms using the National HotDocs Server designed to enable a self-represented litigant to a pro se litigant appeal an eviction or file for custody in court without a lawyer.

These are the software and legal information tools that the North Carolina Bar seeks to restrict by not clarifying that the provision of self-help  legal publications, interactive software, intelligent Web advisors, and other emerging software-powered tools are not the “unauthorized practice of law.”

Instead of making it easier for citizens to exercise this constitutional right, the North Carolina Bar wants to make it more difficult.

A growing body of academic scholarship suggests that the major obstacle to access to the legal system for those who cannot afford legal services is the legal profession itself. Afraid of competition from new forms of legal solutions enabled by the Internet and more powerful software, the unauthorized practice of law committees of state bar associations target non-law firm Internet legal form web sites, non-lawyer legal document preparers, and other innovative means of enabling access on the theory they are protecting the public interest from harm.

The North Carolina definition of the “practice of law” is so broad it is arguably unconstitutionally vague and includes within it almost any act that results in creating a legal document.  [ See Act ]. Categorizing self-help legal information materials as “the practice of law” is a slippery slope.

In a recent article from Professor Deborah L. Rhode, from Stanford Law School,  & Lucy Buford Ricca, Director of the Center on the Legal Profession, Stanford Law School, titled: Protecting the Profession or the Public? Rethinking Unauthorized-Practice Enforcement., where the authors conducted a national comprehensive review of  unauthorized practice of law enforcement, they conclude that:

A third problem is the lack of focus on the public interest. Although bar leaders and case doctrine insist that broad prohibitions on unauthorized practice serve the public, support for that claim is notable for its absence.  Outside a few contexts such as immigration, foreclosures, and trusts and estates, it is rare for customers to assert injury, or for suits to be filed by consumer-protection agencies.  As noted earlier, three-quarters of jurisdictions reported that fewer than half of their complaints came from consumers or clients, and two-thirds of respondents could not recall a specific case of injury in the last year. Of those who did identify a case, almost all involved immigration. So too, the vast majority of UPL lawsuits filed against cyber-lawyer products are brought by lawyers or unauthorized-practice committees and generally settle without examples of harm.

More directly relevant Professor Renee Newman Knake from Michigan State Law School argues in:  Legal Information, the Consumer Law Market, and the First Amendment, 

“The economic arguments for liberalizing lawyer regulation to facilitate the free flow of information support the First Amendment analysis. Perhaps one state will bravely implement a regulatory structure to expand access to legal information without intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court. If not, as this Article has shown, many of the restrictions governing the organizational form of law practice and the distribution of legal services are constitutionally vulnerable to the extent they constrain the creation and distribution of legal information…”

Marc Lauritsen writing in Chicago Kent Law Review, in an article titled, Liberty, Justice and Legal Automa , (See also, Are We Free to Code the Law?) , concerned that the obstructionism of the organized bar will chill innovation when access to the legal system has become critical, asks whether we are free to code the law.

“It is in the enlightened interest of lawyers, as well as the best interest of society in general, to enable programmatic expression of legal knowledge.  We should be free to write code, run code, and let others run our code. If concerned citizens, law students, and entrepreneurs want to create tools that help people access and interact with the legal system, the government should not get in the way.  Are citizens at liberty to create and share software that helps others understand and interact with the legal system? Are we free to code the law?   We certainly should be.”

Professor Catherine J. Lanctot. from Villanova Law School concludes in an article on the same subject [ “Does LegalZoom Have First Amendment Rights: Some Thoughts about Freedom of Speech and the Unauthorized Practice of Law” Temple Political & Civil Rights Law Review 20 (2011): 255. ], that even if one assumes  that the practice of preparing routine legal documents for consumers runs afoul of many unauthorized practice statutes, however, there remains an open question of whether these statutes may themselves interfere with First Amendment guarantees.

“To the the extent that these statutes broadly sweep vast amounts of law-related speech within their scope, they may infringe on free speech rights. The article concludes with a “caution about aggressive pursuit of these online document preparers without careful consideration of the possible risks involved. A successful First Amendment challenge to an unauthorized practice statute could have repercussions far beyond the world of LegalZoom.”

Conclusion:  10 reasons the North Carolina Bar should support this amendment to the definition of the practice of law:

  1. The legal profession will be viewed more favorably as on the side of the consumer, rather than on then in the side of their pocket books;
  2. A challenge to a publisher that legal software is the unauthorized practice of law is likely to fail on 1st Amendment grounds;
  3. There is a difference between legal software (a “publication” ) and a lawyer providing legal advice. (‘conduct”);
  4. Technology innovation will be encouraged for the benefit of both consumers and lawyers;
  5. It will be clear that the publication of consumer facing web-enabled interactive legal forms by legal aid agencies in North Carolina, and other public agencies,  is not the unauthorized practice of law;
  6. The U.S Department of Justice and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission will have less reason to accuse the North Carolina Bar of anti-competitive behavior; [ See letter to Massachusetts Bar Association from the FTC on this subject ];
  7. Bar leadership can demonstrate that they understand that the legal profession is changing and can help prepare their members for 21st century law practice;
  8. With disclaimers, a consumer will understand the difference between using an interactive software application and receiving advice from a “live” person;
  9. The North Carolina Bar can avoid the charge it restricts access to the legal system;
  10. The North Carolina Bar can avoid the charge it is out of step with contemporary technological developments.

*Disclosure: My Company, SmartLegalForms, Inc.,   provides web-based interactive self-help legal forms directly to consumers and to non-lawyer companies nationally and in the state of North Carolina. [ See for example ]

vLawyer and William McNeil have a Credibility Problem

Posted in Virtual Law Practice

In a widely distributed press release to announce his coaching service in virtual lawyering, Attorney and co-founder of vLawyer Consulting, William McNeil makes this statement:

vLawyer defines a virtual law practice as a blending of a traditional brick-and-mortar law firm and legal services delivered entirely through the Internet and a secure client portal. The American Bar Association has responded by launching an e-lawyering task force, but to this point has only provided guidance for lawyers looking to open virtual law offices where clients never meet with the lawyer in person. This works for certain practice areas, but family law and criminal defense attorneys are left out of this definition. A virtual law practice, as defined by vLawyer, can apply to many different practice areas and gives attorneys the power to design their own lifestyle, while providing top-notch client service. 

This statement is "made-up" stuff.

The eLawyering Task Force of the Law Practice Division of the American Bar Association was not "just launched."  It was established in 2000 by William Paul, then President of the ABA. Nowhere in the statements that the eLawyering Task Force has published has been the representation that virtual lawyering should be limited to law firms that solely deliver legal services without seeing a client.   We have clarified in multiple statements and presentations that the idea of online delivery of legal services should be combined with an off-line face-to-face presence and each delivery mode should support and reinforce the other.

While it is possible to create a virtual law firm pure play where there is no face-to-face presence, it is difficult to make a success of a purely virtual law firm practice.  We expand on this idea in a White Paper, published by DirectLaw, the sponsor of this blog entitled: Virtual Law Practice:  Success Factors.   After working with over 300 law firms that use the DirectLaw virtual law firm platform, we have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t work. Download the White Paper here.

The eLawyering Task Force  minimum requirements for law firms delivering legal services online (October, 2009), provides a framework for further discussion and to define the essential requirements for enabling the delivery of ethically compliant online legal services.  The guidance was not designed to provide recommendations on how every type of law practice should execute on this concept.  

A more expansive discussion of these requirements is contained in an article which just appeared in Legalink Magazine, by Stephanie Kimbro and myself. Ms. Kimbro also served on the Task Force and wrote the book on Virtual Law Practice.  We conclude the article with this thought: 

The idea of A "Virtual Law Practice" will not be only something that early adopters utilize in their law practice – it will become an essential component of every law firm practice."

We welcome Attorney McNeil’s recent entrance into this field as solos and small law firms need all of the coaching and support they can get to adopt their practices to the requirements of 21st century practice.  The eLawyering Task Force is an open group that welcomes discussion of these concepts and their implications. Our next meeting will be during the American Bar Association Annual Meeting in Boston in August, 2014.  To learn more about what we are really doing  come join us. (McNeil that message is for you!).


 *Disclosure: Richard Granat is Co-Chair of the eLawyering Task Force, Law Practice Division, American Bar Association.


CodeX FutureLaw 2014: Ethics

Posted in Legal Ethics, Unauthorized Practice of Law

CodeX FutureLaw 2014

CodexXFuture Law 2014

Guest Post from Will Hornsby with appreciation:

The recent CodeX FutureLaw 2014 Conference brought together all of the usual suspects in the tech law world, seemingly asking the same questions – Why aren’t reforms being adopted that would make our business models unfettered and why isn’t the ABA leading that charge? I had hoped to address those questions more effectively within the ethics panel discussion, but have a sense the Q&A format of that panel was a not a good vehicle to clearly make these points. Hopefully, this post will do a better job of that. 

Two fundamental regulatory obstacles limit online legal service models – the unauthorized practice of law and the ability to capitalize legal services. What we all need to realize clearly and at the beginning of this conversation is that the practice of law and the rules and laws that pertain to these issues are regulated in the US at the state level. This is the difference between the US and the UK and Australia. 

As Prof. Rhode noted, some states basically conclude that the practice of law is what a lawyer does, and therefore anyone doing what a lawyer does is committing the unauthorized practice of law when it is done by someone who is not a lawyer. Many states define the practice of law to include the selection of forms, which is an integral part of some online models. Regardless of the breath of the state definitions, they generally preclude the delivery of legal services by corporate entities that are not law firms. 

So, if you have a model that is delivering legal services, the question is how do you do so in a way that is not the unauthorized practice of law. There seems to be two paths. First, you can proceed on a state-by-state basis. That path can further be divided into court challenges and legislative changes. So, for example, LegalZoom recently prevailed through the courts in South Carolina. Decades ago, the owner of Quicken Family Law lost in the Texas courts and lobbied the state legislature, successfully, to redefine the practice of law in a way that carved out its model. The second path is through federal courts, in anticipation that the issue may come before the US Supreme Court and result in a decision that accommodates your model as the law of the land. 

Why hasn’t the ABA solved this problem? Prof. Rhode indicated the ABA “punted” on the issue when it gave thought to the creation of a model definition of the practice of law many years ago. (Call me a cynic, but I suspect she would have been critical of the definition advanced by the ABA had it come up with one.) What the ABA may have learned from that endeavor was that the states were not interested in a model rule. They, instead, embraced the definitions they have in place and showed no interest in a uniform definition, let alone a more liberal one. Simply put, no one can lead when others are not willing to follow.    

The second issue is related to UPL, but, I think, broader. It involves the capitalization of legal services. Why is it that those who are not lawyers cannot have an ownership interest in law firms? This, of course, is the key issue both for attracting start-up funding and creating an exit strategy where the corporate owner can profit from creating a legal service model. Unlike UPL, the ABA has taken a stance on this- seemingly since the beginning of time. Simply put, when a lawyer is put in the position to either serve the interests of a client or serve the financial interests of the shareholders of a corporate entity that owns the law firm, the ABA believes fidelity to the client should not be compromised. This is perceived as a core value of the legal profession and one that sets it apart from businesses. 

Even though the ABA is not likely to change its position in the foreseeable future, we should again keep in mind that the ABA has no direct force and effect on this issue. Again, the matter is controlled exclusively by the states. Nothing stands in the way of those interested in pursuing capitalization of law firms from doing so in each state, or alternatively pursuing the matter in federal court. 

But, be careful of what you wish for. What happens when the practice of law becomes unregulated and anyone can provide legal services? It is not likely a niche online legal service provider fills that space. Instead, the insurance industry become the resource for estate planning documents, no doubt giving discounts to customers with advance directives that prohibit resuscitation. Financial institutions provide incorporation services for their customers as they now provide trusts. Realtors assume the function of land conveyances. All this low-hanging fruit that had been a profit center for lawyers and is transitioning to online legal service providers is likely to be assumed by industries that will have collateral economic advantages. They will do it cheaper and on a larger scale than any of today’s online providers. As we confront the ethics battleground, it needs to be done strategically, with great precision, down a path that avoids the minefields. 

This is obviously a very superficial analysis, but one that I hope generates further discussion and interest in the ethics aspect of Future Law. 

Project Management for Lawyers at ABA TECH SHOW

Posted in Law Firm Productivity

Legal Project ManagementHere comes Lean for Lawyers! Legal project management in large law firms is becoming a mandatory discipline, rather than a way to differentiate one firm from another. Larger law firms are now marketing their skills in legal project management – the ability to complete a legal assignment on time and within a budget The Law Practice Division of the ABA recently published a book titled: "Legal Project Management for Lawyers in One Hour. " One large law firm, SeyfarthShaw has created an affiliated unit, SeyfarthLean , to apply legal project management technologies plus other lean technologies such as Lean Six Sigma, process management techniques, knowledge management technologies to reduce the price of legal services from 15% to 50%.

Smaller law firms can use off the shelf products like Basecamp, inexpensive and easy to use,  to incorporate legal project management technology into their practices. But these off the shelf products have to be adapted to the law practice environment.

At this last week’s ABA TECHSHOW,  there was one excellent presentation on visual work flow applications by Aaron Brooks  . There were also new developments by vendors on the exhibit floor where project management tools that solos and small law firms can use that embedded into other applications:

mycase,com, a web-based  practice management application has a feature that enables a solo or small law firm practitioner to create task templates and work flows.

LawPal has re-launched its web site as a Trello/Basecamp for lawyers to manage transactions online and securely with their clients. It includes project management, document review, markup, storage and signing as part of version 1. They will be adding guided workflow in the next version to allow firms to further automate their transactions. (Disclosure: Author is an advisor to LawPal).

RocketLawyer has now fully integrated the LawPivot Q&A platform into Rocketlawyer and announced at ABA TECH SHOW a new management tool for its on call network of lawyers which has a Lawyer Dash Board that organizes and manages work flow around the provision of legal advice.

RocketMatter, not to be confused with RocketLawyer, has a feature that enables task tracking. You can drag-and -drop tasks to prioritize them and tag them to assemble a "Gettings Things Done" checklist.

I predict that we will see more legal project management tools built into law practice management applications designed for solos and small law firms. If your company is building legal project management tools for lawyers we would like to know about it. Just let us know in the comment section.

I also think that there will be demand for full-time project managers within larger law firms, or lawyers who have project management skills. To this end, we are a launching this summer an on-line course in Legal Project Management through the Center for Law Practice Technology, Florida Coastal School of Law that initially will be open only to law students. The course is being taught by Mark Lassiter, a consultant to law firms on how to implement project management technologies within a law firm. 

Lean Lawyering is the next big thing.