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Lawsuit Claims LegalZoom Is Practicing Law Without a License 246

Posted by samzenpus
from the how-quickly-can-a-computer-finish-law-school? dept.
Bob the Super Hamste writes "Fortune has an interesting piece about a federal class action law suit against LegalZoom claiming that its software is illegally practicing law without a license. The law suit seeks to recover money from LegalZoom for every resident in Missouri who has used LegalZoom regardless of how satisfied the users were of the service. Currently Missouri law states that an individual who paid money to a non lawyer for legal services is entitled to sue the provider for 3 times the amount paid."
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Lawsuit Claims LegalZoom Is Practicing Law Without a License

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  • Who wins.......... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 30, 2011 @11:39AM (#36623392)

    And who wins here????? You guessed it, the LAWYERS!!!!

  • Re:Yay! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by magarity (164372) on Thursday June 30, 2011 @11:44AM (#36623460)

    No kidding - the twits filing the suit admits they weren't harmed by the service and just wants to reclaim their fees x3. This definitely qualifies as a top ten all time frivolous class action suit.

  • by Mashiki (184564) <mashiki@gmail. c o m> on Thursday June 30, 2011 @11:45AM (#36623478) Homepage

    Practicing law without a license? But that would make these people who wasted nearly a decade on getting their law degree redundant! Better fire off a lawsuit (good thing they're good at this kind of thing)!

    Something similar actually already happened here in Canada, rather ontario between the upper canada law society and non-registered legal experts who weren't paralegals but represented people in court for things like compensation claims, and so on. The law society argued that these people were practicing without a license, in turn the government passed a law making it so that they had to be at least paralegals. And in turn fell under the upper-canada law society, meaning that they now also had to pay yearly administration fees and so on.

    It really wasn't about the quality of the people who were doing this. It was their desire to get everyone who was doing legal work all under their umbrella so they could milk money from them.

  • Legal Templates (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sonny Yatsen (603655) * on Thursday June 30, 2011 @11:47AM (#36623500) Journal

    That's pretty dumb. As far as I know, LegalZoom isn't practicing law so much as providing people with templates for documents where they can fill in bits that they want and delete other bits they don't want. This is not the same as giving people legal advice, or engaging in an attorney-client relationship with anyone.

    Besides, if this is successful, it'll have a detrimental effect to authors and publishers who publish books with legal templates (Draft your own Will books, for instance), most of which are for really simple stuff like wills or simple contracts. It's going to deny the poorest people access to making these documents because it's going to force them to seek attorneys who are often too expensive.

  • by Capt James McCarthy (860294) on Thursday June 30, 2011 @11:47AM (#36623506) Journal

    Agreed. Now that lawyers realize that they can be replaced with a script, they are pissed.

  • by ackthpt (218170) on Thursday June 30, 2011 @11:50AM (#36623542) Homepage Journal

    And who wins here????? You guessed it, the LAWYERS!!!!

    More than any other profession, those who practice law have the ability and influence to assure their lack of competition from computer aplications.

    You could write a program to scour a database of every legal decision, even include some fuzzy logic to handle grey areas - at the very least to bring them to your attention, and above all put it on plain english, not that "Lawyer Speak" you see on legal documents (which I'm quite positive are there to baffle and bamboozle the general public) and you would be driven into the dirt for having the audacity to do it.

    Lawyers have in the past decried software legal aids as providing customers with less than the best service possible (thus preserving their positions), but as we see computer chess games surpass even the best human opponents you can well assume a computer could do far more research and connect far more dots than the finest legal mind ever could, in mere seconds.

    The day will come when they won't have a leg to stand on, but as Science Fiction has often charged humanity will discriminate against cyber-persons, you can see the Legal Community are at the forefront.

  • Litigious bastards (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JosKarith (757063) on Thursday June 30, 2011 @11:52AM (#36623560)
    It's an obvious attempt at a chilling effect to destroy the site. I very much doubt that the idea to do this came from the plaintiff - the American legal profession will have been searching for an excuse to get a ruling against this site and now they've found a jurisdiction and willing shill.
  • by DriedClexler (814907) on Thursday June 30, 2011 @11:54AM (#36623586)

    Amen, brother! (in the secular sense)

    This case is yet another example why yet another sector of the economy can't adapt to new realities and increase its efficiency.

  • Re:Legal Templates (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Thursday June 30, 2011 @11:56AM (#36623618)

    Besides, if this is successful, it'll have a detrimental effect to authors and publishers who publish books with legal templates (Draft your own Will books, for instance), most of which are for really simple stuff like wills or simple contracts. It's going to deny the poorest people access to making these documents because it's going to force them to seek attorneys who are often too expensive.

    That is the idea here. The lawyers don't like those books either. The whole point of laws like the one in this case is to protect certain groups from competition (or to force those who go into certain businesses to pay dues to an organization).

  • Re:Yay! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Dunbal (464142) * on Thursday June 30, 2011 @11:58AM (#36623636)
    Good thing that practicing law without a brain is still allowed.
  • Re:Yay! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jafafa Hots (580169) on Thursday June 30, 2011 @11:59AM (#36623658) Homepage Journal

    So... does this mean they can sue every publisher of a legal advice book?

    Like Nolo Press, home will kit sellers, "Incorporating for Dummies," etc?

    I've read that in other countries the legal language is nowhere near as obscure and cryptic, that that is unusual to the US, and designed as a deliberate obfuscation by lawyers so as to make it REQUIRE a lawyer to do anything.

  • by poetmatt (793785) on Thursday June 30, 2011 @12:01PM (#36623690) Journal

    not quite, whether you are referring to legalzoom or the company suing them.

    in irony, suing legalzoom and referencing them on slashdot is probably providing them quite the boom in business.

  • Re:No (Score:1, Insightful)

    by imlepid (214300) <kkinkaid@imleTWAINpid.com minus author> on Thursday June 30, 2011 @12:05PM (#36623726)

    The statute was obviously intended to deal with fake lawyers - yes there are people who will brave the social opprobrium of claiming to be a lawyer in exchange for money.

    No, it wasn't. The statute was obviously intended to keep out competition from people like paralegals and other lawyers-lite who can do 90% of what a lawyer does but doesn't actually have a law degree. Don't forget, many (most?) lawmakers are lawyers by training and thus they are very willing to protect the legal profession.

  • by Kjella (173770) on Thursday June 30, 2011 @12:32PM (#36624010) Homepage

    Lawyers have in the past decried software legal aids as providing customers with less than the best service possible (thus preserving their positions), but as we see computer chess games surpass even the best human opponents you can well assume a computer could do far more research and connect far more dots than the finest legal mind ever could, in mere seconds.

    The same day you can point a computer to wikipedia and have Lt. Cmdr. Data. And no, Watson doesn't come close. Sure you can throw together some keyword software but to actually parse and understand what a legal text really is about, apply it to your case and give you something like a legal argument would take far more strong AI than what's available.

    Chess is in many ways ridiculously simple, the positions are finite, the rules absolute. But your legal case is not exactly like any other legal case and good luck trying to map all the rules like "the right to free speech" but it actually means drawings too and it doesn't mean shouting fire in a crowded theater. Without a huge number of abstract concepts beyond what's in the text itself you'll get nowhere.

  • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cdrguru (88047) on Thursday June 30, 2011 @12:38PM (#36624092) Homepage

    You can use the same argument about doctors, or virtually any "profession" that claims to have standards. Auto mechanics have to be certified in some jurisdictions and you can bet there are laws in place in those locations that make it a crime to pretend to be an auto mechanic without proper (legal) certification.

    This goes back to guilds and unions. If you aren't a member of the guild then you can't do whatever it is the guild members do, whether it is weaving, being an apothecary or a wheelwright. We have preserved this today with lots of professional societies and groups taking the place of the guilds. You can't be a lawyer if you don't pass the state bar exam - and, coincidently, join the bar association for the state. You can't be a doctor unless you are certified as a doctor in that state. And there are plenty of places where you can't be an electrician if you aren't a member of the IBEW union. Plumbers are required to be union plumbers in some places as well.

    The defense of this is that you are at least partially assured of competence when dealng with a guild member. You have a "standards body" to go complain to if you are cheated or are dealt with incompetently. If you choose to deal with non-guild members you are pretty much on your own. Today if you prefer to go to an alternative medical practitioner who chants over you will dosing you with dung balls and mouse ears it is your legally-protected choice. However, if you don't get better or your broken leg doesn't heal properly good luck with (a) finding your practiticioner and (b) getting a lawsuit to stick. You might - might - have better luck with a non-union electrician in a jurisdiction where such are not legal.

    So sure, the laws are most definitely on the side of the guilds. It has been that way for around a thousand years or so. The guilds exist for a reason and certainly a thousand years ago it was a very good reason. Today there are still some good reasons for them but the volume of cultural, societal and legal inertia behind the guilds makes it very unlikely we are going to move away from this sort of system any time soon.

  • Re:Legal Templates (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bob9113 (14996) on Thursday June 30, 2011 @01:13PM (#36624518) Homepage

    >> It's going to deny the poorest people access to making these documents because it's going to force them to seek attorneys who are often too expensive.

    > That is the idea here. The lawyers don't like those books either. The whole point of laws like the one in this case is to protect certain groups from competition

    Makes for an interesting lens through which to view the ethics of the software engineering culture. Many of us, particularly on this forum, are contributors to F/LOSS -- very similar to legal templates. There are, however, those such as Microsoft who have at times sought to steer the government to inhibit the flow of F/LOSS. As I reflect on the coders, engineers, and scientists in the field I have known, it strikes me that their level of support for F/LOSS correlates well with their sense of ethics. The most honorable are also those who most strongly advocate for broader publication of source code. Perhaps altruism, though I am skeptical of that term; perhaps more out of a sense of long-term rational self-interest -- advocating for the rising tide of society which raises all ships.

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