In August, I wrote about the Consumer Reports evaluation of online do-it-yourself legal sites (Legal DIY sites no match for a pro). This week, Wall Street Journal reporter Jennifer Smith writes on “No-Frill Legal Services Grow,” addressing many of the same DIY websites.
The impetus for the article is the lawsuit filed last month by LegalZoom.com against up-and-coming rival Rocket Lawyer. It is ironic that these entities are now fighting over what is and is not “free” in terms of form filing and other stuff where you apparently either don’t need a lawyer, or perhaps just need one that works for them at really cheap rates. Interesting side note: Both LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer have real lawyers doing the fighting–I don’t think they are using their own self service offerings.
The debate often revolves around the potential “unauthorized practice of law.” Regardless of the semantics involved, the consumer is thinking this is a cost-effective way to resolve a legal issue. It is not like this business is new. Strip malls stores (Divorce! Bankruptcy! Wills!) have provided similar services for decades. Storefronts such as “We the People” have largely evaporated (thanks in part to the Internet and in part to State Bar issues with unauthorized practice). In recent years, the online offerings have changed the language in describing offerings to something akin to providing documents and/or providing a lawyer somewhere that can answer questions.