Comment: the South Carolina LegalZoom case – “NewLaw” in the US still in the 20th Century?
Comment by Charles Christian…
It is a little ironic that although the United States now has a thriving “legal industry disruption” conference calendar, with LexThink, RelEvent and ReInvent Law to name just three, the drive towards creating a new legal paradigm – what some people call NewLaw (as distinct from Big Law) – is being held back by the profession’s own inherently conservative, protectionist attitude.
For example, earlier this week LegalZoom announced that the long running T.Travis Medlock v. LegalZoom.com Inc litigation (it began in the spring of 2012) had been resolved in its favour, with the South Carolina Supreme Court ruling that LegalZoom does not engage in the unauthorised practice of law (or UPL). However before supporters of legal reform and access to Justice start breaking out the champagne, it is worth noting that LegalZoom still faces similar UPL lawsuits in Alabama, Ohio, Arkansas, Missouri and North Carolina. And, as the excellent 3 Geeks and a Law Blog point out, last year Nelson Mullins attorney, B. Rush Smith, filed a pre-hearing brief that described what LegalZoom is doing as simply being “an online scrivener for a customer purchasing an online automated legal document.”
Online scrivener eh! How cutting edgy, rock ‘n’ roll, Silicon Valley hipster chic is that? It sounds like something by a 19th century novelist, such as Charles Dickens or Anthony Trollope. OK, so perhaps the US legal community is not two centuries behind the times but the protectionist attitude of many state bars echoes the same situation we saw in the UK in the 1980s – that was until the late Margaret Thatcher got it into her head that the legal profession needed reforming and opening up to commercial market forces. Maybe LegalZoom should find themselves the American equivalent of The Iron Lady to fight their corner?