After the U.S. Supreme Court decided that dental associations can’t regulate teeth whitening services, professional associations of all kinds were hit with similar lawsuits—including bar associations. Now, to avoid looking like they have a monopoly on legal services, bar associations may be forced to play ball with some legal tech companies they have been trying to push out of the legal market.

Opening the Door to Legal Tech

In a battle of briefs, self-help and legal technology entities such as LegalZoom, JustiaFileRight, Shake, JustAnswer, and Consumers for a Responsive Legal System were pitted head-to-head with state bar associations—and this wasn’t the first time.

While many other professions leverage innovation, LegalZoom and other legal technology services have faced resistance by bar associations across the country. From recent lawsuits in Ohio and Missouri to settlements in California and South Carolina on top of countless other legal challenges, LegalZoom has held their ground but still has yet to be embraced across the board.

Last June, LegalZoom even sued the North Carolina bar over whether its business really constitutes unauthorized legal services. As part of the settlement, the two are now working together, with the NC bar signing off on LegalZoom’s template and the NC bar supporting a redefinition of UPL.

Legal Ethics Free-For-All

Fearing legal entanglement, the Washington State Bar Association told its Ethics Commission to stop issuing any opinions that could be considered a “restraint on trade” as of December 2015—effectively gutting much of the committee’s authority to do just about anything. The bar is currently reviewing the committee’s work, but has not indicated how long the committee’s authority will remain in check.

State definitions of UPL remain few and far between. In light of an over trend towards acceptance of legal technology services such as LegalZoom, these definitions have no choice but to evolve. What legal technology companies also have yet to be set in stone, especially when it comes to more hard-core legal services like court proceedings. As technology continues to evolve and new services emerge, however, these issues may need to be addressed.

Are all legal services the equivalent of whitening teeth or are some more like drilling them?

Anna Massoglia
Anna Massoglia is a public policy professional, researcher, and writer based in Washington, D.C., where she works researching campaign finance law issues related to politically active nonprofits.

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