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Should Lawyers "Collaborate" With Legal Tech Companies?

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on August 07, 2015 12:59 PM

Sharks swim, weasels burrow, lawyers argue -- it's simply the natural order of things. Yet some abominations, "disruptive innovators" they call themselves, would seek to abandon this system that's worked so well for at least several hundred years.

Indeed, these innovative monsters think it's time lawyers focus on collaborating with, instead of crushing, others. Particularly, they want lawyers to cooperate with, or at least stop opposing, non-lawyer direct-to-consumer legal service companies. Do they have a point?

Learning to Just Get Along

Alright, these innovators weren't exactly monsters. Rather, they were speakers at the ABA's annual conference in Chicago. They weren't advocating for lawyers to abandon the adversarial system, either, but rather to work more closely with other lawyers and tech startups in the legal services industry, according to the ABA Journal. A panel on the future of legal services brought together law school deans, practicing attorneys, state bar leaders, and legal service providers. Thomas Rombach, of the Michigan Bar, spoke of bringing people together to collaborate and picking up ideas from others. Michigan borrowed its online legal directory from the Illinois bar, he said, but "dumbed it down so it was accessible for smartphone users."

Some panelists wanted a bit more than simple collaboration, however. John Suh, from LegalZoom, tried to convince practitioners that lawyers should couple with technology and direct-to-consumer legal products companies. Though they compete with lawyers, those companies aren't meant to replace them, Suh claimed, as "there's no substitute for judgment."

Collaborate or Capitulate?

Of course, many lawyers would still view folks like Suh as wolves in sheep's clothing. There are plenty in the profession who view LegalZoom's automated wills, incorporation papers, and the trust forms as the unauthorized and illegal practice of law. Suh was even called out by one of the other panel participants, David Miranda, President of the New York Bar Association. "You talk about the law like it's a business," Miranda said. "It's not. It's a profession."

Suh's position was moderate when compared to that taken by Avvo founder Mark Britton. Britton urged the lawyers in attendance to get rid of the concept of the unauthorized practice of law altogether. Unauthorized practice rules, Britton argued, keep innovators out of the legal market -- which is true, so long as those innovators don't have law licenses.

Neither Suh's nor Britton's remarks seemed to go over too well with the audience, however, showing that lawyers might not be too enthusiastic about "collaborating" with "disruptors" -- at least for now.

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