A California law firm recently filed a lawsuit in federal court against LegalZoom arguing that LegalZoom is engaging in unauthorized practice of trademark law in violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct, antitrust law, and state and federal unfair competition law. McCabe on IP Ethics has more details on the claims.
This is not new for LegalZoom which has been subject to such attacks in the past. But the lawsuit is the most recent example of two ongoing, and related, debates. One is about the proper definition of what constitutes the practice of law and the other is on whether it is a good idea to allow non-lawyers to provide some level of legal services.
In an article I published last year, I studied some aspects of these debates (all of which relate to the notion of innovation in the practice of law) by dividing the arguments into what I called the “Justice Gap” and the “Core Values” themes. The Justice Gap theme focuses the need for innovation on the fact that the vast majority of civil legal needs in the United States are addressed without attorneys, in part because of lack of access to affordable legal services. The Core Values theme focuses the need to oppose some types of innovation because of the need to protect certain principles upon which the practice of the profession is based. And then there is the argument that the core values argument is merely a protectionist approach to the practice of law. How these themes are addressed by regulatory agencies in the near future will determine the fate of the discussion on innovation in the practice of law in the United States.
If you are interested, the citation for the article is 41 Journal of the Legal Profession 1 (2016). If you are super interested, send me a message with your address and I can send you a reprint when I get back to the office in mid January. (I don't know how many I have, so "first come-first served.")