Home Ch.1 - Automating the Practice Non-Lawyers, Web Sites and Kiosks
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Chapter 1 - The Necessity for Automating the Practice of Law

Non-Lawyers, Web Sites and Kiosks in the Practice of Law

There is continued growth of nonlawyers, web sites, and kiosks “practicing law” throughout the United States.  Whether they be document preparers, real estate agents, personal injury advisors, accountants or others, there has been significant inroads into the practice of law by those that do not understand the legal issues, such as attorney/client privilege, the impact of a pension on a dissolution proceeding, or key contractual clauses that should be inserted in a buy/sell agreement.  Yet, they advertise and many people feel they perform a valuable service.  Why is this true?  Wouldn’t a person be more inclined to trust the judgment of a legal professional as opposed to a “document preparer”?  The fact of the matter is that in an ABA Gallop Poll the reason people go to paralegals are:

  •          97% - lower fees;
  •          43% - convenience;
  •          41% - responsiveness;
  •          35% - dislike attorneys; and
  •          14% - quality of service.                        

Software - Practicing Law Without a License


        Judge Barefoot Sanders of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas ruled that Iowa?based Parsons Technology, which manufactures Quicken Family Lawyer, engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in Texas by selling the popular interactive software there.

        The Quicken program allows users to create wills, employment contracts and health?related legal documents by answering questions posed in the software program.  Quicken Family Lawyer "goes beyond merely instructing someone on how to fill in a blank form. . has gone beyond publishing a sample form book with instructions, and has ventured into the unauthorized practice of law," Sanders wrote in his Jan. 22 decision.

        Quicken isn't alone. The Texas Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee is also alleging that Berkeley, Calif.?based Nolo Press, which has published legal books and software since the early 1970s, is also practicing law without a license.

        The Texas legislature passed a law overruling Judge Sander’s decision

Attorneys are losing business to nonlawyers.  Forty seven percent (47%) of attorneys say they have lost 10% to 49% of business to nonlawyers.  However, the “bright spot” is that the legal needs of most families still go unmet.  In fact “about half of all low- and moderate- income families in America have a legal need . . . but never turn to the justice system . . .  “ A Shunned Justice System, ABA Journal, April 1994.

This article reported “that 47 percent of low-income households and 52% of moderate-income households had at least one new or ongoing legal problem in 1992”, in which a lawyer was not consulted.  One article strongly proposed using more paralegals, stating “ recent estimates indicate that about three-quarters of the legal needs of low-income Americans remain unmet, as do almost two-thirds of such needs among middle-income households.”  Meet Needs with Nonlawyers, American Bar Journal, January 1996. 

Non-lawyers have been increasing their role in providing legal services without being licensed.  For example, nonlawyer document preparers in Arizona charge $99.00 plus additional fees to complete the paperwork for a dissolution proceeding.  The ABA has acknowledged the growing role of nonlawyers in providing legal services in the United States.  One report, Regulating Nonlawyers, ABA Magazine, October 1995, James Podgers, sets out a process for the states to follow in assessing what continuing role nonlawyers might play in the legal system and how to regulate their role.


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With the approval and control of the Arizona Supreme Court computer kiosks have been installed that provide instructions to litigants, produce legal documents for court cases and increase access to the courts.  These kiosks were installed to meet the needs of low-income citizens, as attorneys generally agree that this “low end” business is not desirable.  These kiosks, known as QuickCourt, are interactive, multimedia computer systems that use text, graphics and an on-screen narrator.  The forms and instructions available for a fee include domestic relations, landlord tenant, probate and small claims.  Fees range from $6.00 to $30.00.

The World Wide Web has created an environment that will encourage nonlawyers to practice law. Most anyone has access to the WWW, and the cost of automating the creation of legal documents over the web is relatively easy.  As a result, we are seeing sites such as Divorce Online (www.divorceonline.com) and WillWorks.com (www.willworks.com) where “tailor-made first rate” wills start at $59.95.  After answering a series of questions on-line, you receive your will in the mail a few days later.  The Company Corporation (www.incorporate.com) creates corporations for people after answering a series of on-line questions.   CSC (www.incspot.com) now offers “fillable” state corporation and UCC filing forms on the Internet.




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