The time has come for legal document preparers to be known as the best thing since sliced bread and just as commonplace. The push pull of document preparers grasp on the market place has been going on for decades. Document preparers know, consumers know, judges know, and even attorneys know that our services are part of the legal landscape. Legal document preparers struggle to continue their work offering low cost alternatives to consumers. The Florida Bar wishes we did not exist. But, if wishes were horses …
… beggars would ride.
Document preparers do not take work away from attorneys. The type of legal service that document preparers provide is not the same as what an attorney provides. Document preparers prepare documents – forms. Document preparers do not give legal advice. Document preparers do not appear in court. Many of the consumers who use document preparers would not use an attorney anyway, either because of the expense, or the consumer's belief in the old saying – once bitten twice shy.
Traditionally, consumers' knee jerk reaction when faced with any legal matter is to hire an attorney. There is a strong and pervasive bias stemming from the traditional legal establishment that every consumer needs an attorney for every legal matter. This presumption is just not true. Believe it or not, some legal matters are not contested and are documents only. Many consumers are sophisticated enough to research and find information about substantive law as needed. Consumers struggle with formatting and procedure. And the fact remains, sometimes it is just not possible or practical to pay attorney's fees.
So here we are.
I came across an article in the Denver Business Journal. It was a panel interview about market disruptors. One of the panelists was Tom Romer of Greenberg Traurig. Greenberg Traurig is an international law firm with more than 2,000 attorneys in 38 offices in the United States, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. GT has been recognized for its philanthropic giving, was named the largest firm in the U.S. by Law360 in 2017, and is among the Top 20 on the 2017 Am Law Global 100.
Here is what Mr. Romer said:
“How has innovation affected current business social and legal paradigms?
ROMER: The paradigm shift that is happening in law is really interesting. The legal industry is basically a guild. We try to prevent competition and of course, protect legal service users, by prohibiting the unauthorized practice of law. Which means that no one can offer legal services without a law license. However, companies are disrupting that model and appear not to follow those rules. It’s similar to how ride share companies appeared to ignore public transportation regulations and created a business model that regulators said wasn’t compliant. But suddenly, everyone was using ride share companies and regulators had to figure out a way to approve it. If lawyers are so naïve as to think our little guild is going to protect us for the next 10 or 15 years, we’re going to wake up and see something new in the marketplace that is so popular our regulators will have to accept it even if it could be technically unauthorized practice of law. “
My takeaway is that legal document preparers have to become better known. Even though document preparers have been around for decades, we fail in making our services widely known. Part of the reason for that failure is the urge or need to fly under the radar to avoid attention from the Florida Bar. However, as we avoid the Florida Bar's attention, we fail to attract the attention of many consumers who might benefit from our services.
In that same article, Romer went on to say: “Lawyers and law firms have been slow to adopt change. But the conventional wisdom is that the practice of law will change more in the next 2 to 5 years than it has in over 200 years. What’s going to happen in the legal industry will be a wave of white-collar disruption.”
So let's disrupt and disrupt some more. I write about issues affecting legal document preparers and pro se litigants – legal access, unauthorized practice of law, and pro se rights. Please check out some of my other blog posts, especially “Uberish” and “We Are Disruptors”.
I welcome your questions, comments and shares.