by Amanda Grau
TIKD, an application that enables users to be paired with an attorney based on an uploaded traffic ticket they wish to contest, has been embroiled in antitrust and unauthorized practice of law (UPL) litigation since 2017. In January 2019, there was a major win for the app and Christopher Riley, the app’s developer: the referee, appointed by the Florida Supreme Court as the court’s finder of fact for the UPL lawsuit, released a report in favor of TIKD. The report now goes to the Florida Supreme Court for adoption or rejection.
The referee, Judge Pooler, stated that although it is undisputed that TIKD is not authorized to practice law in Florida, TIKD is not a law firm nor a lawyer referral service and its operations did not involve UPL. “No reasonable person could conclude, based on the evidence submitted to the Referee, that TIKD or Riley hold themselves out as providers of legal services,” said Judge Pooler. Despite the positive ruling, TIKD has decided to suspend consumer traffic ticket services, perhaps in an effort to avoid future litigation. This is a blow to consumers looking for affordable legal support when dealing with unjust traffic tickets.
Riley launched TIKD in 2017, providing a unique public service by pairing app users with lawyers for a flat fee. It promised a full refund if the ticket was not dismissed. The flat fee was typically less than the fine the user received, and TIKD promised to assume any additional cost of the ticket if it was not dismissed. TIKD primarily dealt with every-day, easily disputable violations. If the ticket was dismissed, both TIKD and the consumer benefited from the transaction. The app was a particularly helpful and innovative avenue for consumers to get legal help for a small issue that could easily cost too much time and money for the average person to afford. TIKD took on the time spent searching for a lawyer and the monetary cost on behalf of the consumer, profiting off of the difference between the flat fee and the lawyer’s fee. For a moment, it seemed that the public finally had a new, technologically ingenious way to deal with traffic tickets. Unfortunately for the public, the Florida State Bar wasn’t willing to allow for innovation in how consumers approach legal aid.
Shortly after TIKD began operations, the company received opposition from the Florida Bar (the Bar) and ticket fighting law firm The Ticket Clinic. The Ticket Clinic filed a complaint to the Bar, claiming that TIKD was practicing law. This complaint was filed before TIKD even began their operations. After the investigation, the Bar alleged that Riley and his company engaged in UPL, claiming TIKD’s operations were illegal because the non-lawyer company operated in conjunction, and shared fees, with lawyers. The Bar released a number of ethics opinions advising lawyers to not operate with TIKD, implying punishment if they did not comply. It became difficult to find lawyers willing to work with the app, tremendously affecting TIKD’s ability to conduct business in Florida. The Bar followed the opinions with a lawsuit against TIKD for UPL.
In response to these setbacks, Riley and TIKD filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the Bar and The Ticket Clinic in 2017, alleging that both organizations were colluding to maintain the economic status quo by suppressing TIKD. Based on a UPL complaint from The Ticket Clinic, TIKD alleged the Bar began investigating the app before they began operations. TIKD claimed that both the Bar and The Ticket Clinic were investigating the app because it provided unwanted competition: the Ticket Clinic’s business would suffer if there was an easier, technologically sound alternative that consumers could use. TIKD’S argument primarily rested upon United States Supreme Court precedent. In North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. FTC, the Supreme Court ruled that state regulatory boards made up of market participants (such as bar associations) must have increased oversight by the state in order to claim immunity from federal antitrust lawsuits.
The Florida Bar has made two conflicting statements about this case. Prior to the United States Supreme Court's ruling, the Bar argued they were similar to state boards and therefore immune to antitrust lawsuits. After the court's ruling, fearful that it would expose them to antitrust litigation because their purpose is similar to that of the Board of Dental Examiners, the Bar argued they were different from state boards and that immunity to antitrust lawsuits came automatically. The Department of Justice has called the Bar’s position an “inconsistency.”
TIKD reached a settlement agreement with the Florida Bar in their antitrust case earlier this year after The Ticket Clinic was dismissed from the case in September 2018. On January 25th, 2019, the Florida Bar filed an objection to the Referee's UPL report in the hopes of convincing the Florida Supreme Court to reject it. The Bar claimed that TIKD and Riley are indeed unauthorized providers of legal services and urging the court to allow oral arguments.
Responsive Law will continue to support consumer access legal aid through platforms like TIKD as we persist in the fight against the monopolistic hold bar associations have on affordable legal aid.
Read North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. FTC here.
Amanda Grau is a legal intern at Responsive Law.
Donate now to help Responsive Law continue the fight for a more responsive legal system across the United States.