Written by Tom Gordon
David Feldman, a New York City lawyer, has a post in his blog today that concisely addresses many of the issues surrounding LegalZoom and other online legal service providers facing prosecution for the unauthorized practice of law (UPL). His post is worth reading, and gives me the opportunity to raise a few points that I've raised in other places about how the legal profession has responded to both competition and technology.
LegalZoom's product, other than automation, is not fundamentally different from books with accompanying forms that publishers like Nolo have been selling for decades. Decisions to prosecute LegalZoom and other online self-help services are driven by fear of technology and fear of competition—both of which are things that lawyers should embrace, rather than fear.
Rather than fearing technology, lawyers should make their services more available online, so that they can capture some of the market that LegalZoom has so successfully captured. And lawyers should better market the expertise that differentiates them from legal form providers. A lawyer can give you advice about whether to incorporate your business, rather than just the forms to do so, or advice about how to plan your estate, rather than the form for a will. If the public understood this, then lawyers would be better able to either compete with or work in conjunction with self-help services, rather than trying to eliminate them by using the bar's government-granted monopoly to make such services illegal.
Tom Gordon is Executive Director of Responsive Law.