Last week I speculated about what might happen if all Unauthorized Practice of Law statutes disappeared overnight, thus allowing anyone to give legal advice. The focus last week was on the likely effect of such a change on people who can’t afford to hire a lawyer. Today let’s look at people who can, or who think they can.
How many folks who need legal advice with typical problems (e.g., family law, real estate, insurance, debt, estate planning, landlord-tenant, minor criminal offenses) and who could afford to hire a lawyer would instead consider not just anyone, but a non-lawyer expert? In my view, quite a few.
Would (Just) Anyone Get Hired?
Most people in the purportedly shrinking middle class who can afford to drop $1500 or more up-front to get a lawyer to start work on a typical case are probably smart enough to understand that there are lots of people out there who know a lot about a particular area of law and could offer good advice without the benefit of a law degree.
Americans generally don’t believe they always need an expert to solve a complex problem. Many middle-class people sell their own homes—a complex transaction. People start new businesses all the time without consulting a lawyer. They trust software to do their taxes. The growth of online legal document services continues, despite controversy.
Why would these very same people, when facing a legal issue that they know lots of people have faced before, not at least check out the alternatives to lawyers? Experienced paralegals, court clerks, and legal secretaries could do a lot of this work well. These non-lawyer experts would also know when to refer potential clients to a lawyer. I am also convinced that high-quality advertising and marketing could effectively deliver the message that expertise gained through experience is more valuable than a law degree.
And, as with those who can’t afford to even consider hiring a lawyer, middle-class people (particularly in the age of constant connection and communication) would spread the word quickly about which non-lawyer experts did good work. Referrals are everything, especially in a buyers’ market. This would likely quickly weed out low-quality “predatory” providers, or at least reduce their numbers down to relative insignificance.