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Welcome to The Lotus Rules, formerly known as the Shark Free Zone, the blog for my practice’s web site. As an experienced blogger, admittedly, this first post is too long, but it’s the first so I took license. Still, for the sake of you readers and my practice, subsequent postings will be shorter.

I was going to write my inaugural piece on why most individuals should have something in place protecting their property and possessions in case they die. However, most, if not all, of the teleconferences, seminars, and  webinars that I’ve recently attended were tinged with angst caused by online legal services. Inevitably, a participant would give a haughty, “We’re not afraid of you …humph!” when nothing could be further from the truth. So, the “why you should have something,” piece will make its debut next, as I now share a few observations on the brouhaha regarding online legal services.

The fundamental perception underlying the online legal services debate is based on our profession’s steadfast and imprudent use of an outdated framework. The 3 sides of this frame are change aversion, fee generation, and professional egoism.  Encompassed within are a myriad of factors, including risk aversion, money affection, perfectionism, and control- and structure-orientation. However, it is the bottom of this non-gendered triumvirate, our professional egoism, causing the most discord.

Arguably, certain arguments opposing online services are justified, as is a certain amount of lawyer egoism. Many colleagues and I spent years of enormous effort, anxiety, sleepless nights, money we did not have, and BIG brain power to get to achieve our goal – acceptance in one of the most respected professions in the world. So, those of us who “survived” are now in an “elite” group and that has to mean something. Right? Yes, it does … within reason.

The reasonable justifications for opposing online services and justifications for our egoism include:

  1. A very high standard of performance in communication and analysis,
  2. A deference and respect for those seeking our services because most folks don’t turn to an attorney unless there’s trouble afoot,
  3. A deference for and an ability to establish rules that can stand the test of time, lending stability and civility to our society, aka “precedent,” and
  4. A genuine desire to help others – not necessarily the altruistic human rights,”let’s save the internally displaced” kind of help, but the “if you sign this contract as it’s written, you’ll lose your shirt” kind.

However, the unreasonable justifications are what foster the profession’s debate and undergird the angst:

  1. Interpreting elite as exclusionary whereby understanding the law is our territory and online legal services are trespassing,
  2. Defining clients as those who can pay premium fees for our efforts, and
  3. Simply meaning that “we’re ‘in’ and you’re ‘out’; hence, we make the rules, hide their meanings, and change them whenever we want; and you follow the rules while we enjoy lavish lifestyles.”

The reasonable justifications for opposing online legal services can be reconciled with supporting the same. However, those of us holding on to the unreasonable justifications are doing so perilously. Understanding the law is not the exclusive purview of lawyers.  It is our duty to protect our clients’ rights. For us to discharge that duty, clients should at least know what their rights are, when their rights are in jeopardy, or when they’ve been violated. Yet, lawyers don’t sit around coffee shops to see who’s writing the next “One L” and we certainly don’t troll sweatshops calculating how long the seamstress has worked and for what amount of compensation. Ergo, clients must have some understanding of the law as it applies to them in order to seek protection or demand redress.

Frankly, non-exclusivity in this context has generally been the case, so exclusivity is a meritless argument and efforts to continue hiding behind the curtain in Oz are foolhardy. Let me explain. Several decades ago, on Main Street, USA, Almost Famous Author finished “Two L” and told Neighbor Nikki about his manuscript, who then advised “call the Library of Congress and get it copyrighted; they’ve got the forms.” Almost Famous Author did as advised but also went to see Attorney Shingle. Attorney Shingle gave Almost Famous Author the forms at no charge, saying, “Call me if ya got any questions, and don’t worry about the fee ‘cause it won’t take long.” In fact, the visit with Shingle was free, too. Well, times changed. Main Street gentrified into Wall Street and Attorney Shingle joined BL & Associates, LLC where forms along with most visits were no longer free. Moreover, Attorney Shingle’s son also went to law school and joined BL, and so did Attorney Shingle’s grandson, and times were great for the profession.

Now, times have changed again. Technology allows companies and firms to provide free or inexpensive legal forms and free information, with expeditious delivery, so that even wannabe famous writers who could afford BL are obtaining legal services online. Irrefutable is that the purveyors of the new free forms and information earn a comfortable living, but they are also doing something to offset a most egregious result of the second factor – limiting who obtains help by requiring clients to pay a premium’s premium fee. Firms embracing technology are providing access to legal services to those who needed them but often could not afford them. Technology helped unmask the rules and unlock their “hidden” meanings with “plain English.” As a result, the technology toothpaste is out of the tube, so to speak.

Yet, all is not lost for lawyers and clients who prefer the traditional ways. The legal profession has a great opportunity in its impending transformation. Of course, some practice areas are too complex to lend themselves to online services, e.g., international intellectual property matters and corporate litigation.  However, if lawyers in even complex areas can unbundle repetitive, redundant processes, the outcome will be greater efficiency, happier clients, more clients, and higher income without increasing fees. In contrast, some areas must change dramatically or technology will devour them, which would not bode well for anyone. I agree that a couple with a multi-million dollar estate and dependents should not plan their legacy using online services en toto. Equally and conversely, a young couple, with a moderate income and home and no dependents should absolutely protect themselves with online legal services. In the U.S., our profession is based on an adversarial system, but if we think that trying to put the technology toothpaste back in the tube and fighting potential clients who need that toothpaste is prudent, then we need to phone members of another profession for a mental faculty assessment.

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