Don’t look now, but the robo-lawyers are coming.
And though there’s no need for panic, you’d be wise to stay abreast of current developments.
For example, states (notably Utah) are passing legislation creating a Sandbox, which opens the door for alternative legal service providers to ethically compete with law firms in providing legal services.
Legal Zoom is one of the oldest and best-known ALSPs, but new companies are emerging all the time. One ambitious ALSP is Upsolve, a free online legal service that helps consumers file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy without a lawyer. Another is Hello Divorce, which provides DIY divorces for as low as $100 – and never more than $5,000.
“Leaders in the so-called robo-lawyer industry are pushing for states to update policies to allow for easier access to automated legal services, which supporters say can help to streamline and cut costs with proceedings like bankruptcy and divorce filings,” according to this report. “Experts in the field are urging policy-makers to standardize regulations across jurisdictions and to reconsider ‘unauthorized practice of law’ rules that prevent people from practicing law without a license. But there are also concerns about moving too fast in redesigning regulations and either exposing consumers to risky practices or stifling innovation.”
What should you do
It’s unlikely you’ll see R2D2 arguing cases in court anytime soon. But smart lawyers should:
- Stay on top of what’s happening with ALSPs in your state.
- Become a part of the process and not a bystander.
- Let your State Bar and Supreme Court know how you feel about ALSPs and Sandbox regulations.
- Continue providing exemplary, in-person service to your clients.
Read “Robo-Lawyers are Coming – Are States Ready” at the website Route Fifty.
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ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 5.5
Unauthorized Practice of Law
(a) A lawyer shall not practice law in a jurisdiction in violation of the regulation of the legal profession in that jurisdiction, or assist another in doing so.
(b) A lawyer who is not admitted to practice in this jurisdiction shall not:
(1) except as authorized by these Rules or other law, establish an office or other systematic and continuous presence in this jurisdiction for the practice of law; or
(2) hold out to the public or otherwise represent that the lawyer is admitted to practice law in this jurisdiction.
(c) A lawyer admitted in another United States jurisdiction, and not disbarred or suspended from practice in any jurisdiction, may provide legal services on a temporary basis in this jurisdiction that:
(1) are undertaken in association with a lawyer who is admitted to practice in this jurisdiction and who actively participates in the matter;
(2) are in or reasonably related to a pending or potential proceeding before a tribunal in this or another jurisdiction, if the lawyer, or a person the lawyer is assisting, is authorized by law or order to appear in such proceeding or reasonably expects to be so authorized;
(3) are in or reasonably related to a pending or potential arbitration, mediation, or other alternative resolution proceeding in this or another jurisdiction, if the services arise out of or are reasonably related to the lawyer’s practice in a jurisdiction in which the lawyer is admitted to practice and are not services for which the forum requires pro hac vice admission; or
(4) are not within paragraphs (c) (2) or (c)(3) and arise out of or are reasonably related to the lawyer’s practice in a jurisdiction in which the lawyer is admitted to practice.
(d) A lawyer admitted in another United States jurisdiction or in a foreign jurisdiction, and not disbarred or suspended from practice in any jurisdiction or the equivalent thereof, or a person otherwise lawfully practicing as an in-house counsel under the laws of a foreign jurisdiction, may provide legal services through an office or other systematic and continuous presence in this jurisdiction that:
(1) are provided to the lawyer’s employer or its organizational affiliates, are not services for which the forum requires pro hac vice admission; and when performed by a foreign lawyer and requires advice on the law of this or another U.S. jurisdiction or of the United States, such advice shall be based upon the advice of a lawyer who is duly licensed and authorized by the jurisdiction to provide such advice; or
(2) are services that the lawyer is authorized by federal or other law or rule to provide in this jurisdiction.
(e) For purposes of paragraph (d):
(1) the foreign lawyer must be a member in good standing of a recognized legal profession in a foreign jurisdiction, the members of which are admitted to practice as lawyers or counselors at law or the equivalent, and subject to effective regulation and discipline by a duly constituted professional body or a public authority; or,
(2) the person otherwise lawfully practicing as an in-house counsel under the laws of a foreign jurisdiction must be authorized to practice under this Rule by, in the exercise of its discretion, [the highest court of this jurisdiction].
Source: ABA Rule of Professional Conduct 5.5
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