See August 23, 2011, update at end of post for links to reports of proposed settlement in this case
The District Court has issued an order in the Missouri LegalZoom Case.
Bottom line: The District Court rejects LegalZoom’s Motion for Summary Judgement, ruling that the software and associated services could be found by a reasonable juror to be the practice of law under Missouri law. The Court regards the software as more like a legal service than a pure scrivener or the sale of a forms book.
In the description of what the software does, the Court describes the discretionary role (beyond the writing of the software) as highly limited. In fact the court basically says that two users who answer the forms the same way would get the same document. It did not help LegalZoom that their promotion says that after you use the software “Legal Zoom takes over.”
The court points out that the software design was not done by a Missouri lawyer.
Two points: One. There is little if anything here to worry legal aid and court-based services, since they are overseen by state-licensed lawyers.
Two: The real issue is the writing of the software. That is where the debate about whether it is the practice of law should be. Some say that writing software is more like writing a book or a paper form, but I am not yet sure where I stand on that. That certainly is where the issues of quality and the need for consumer protection most arise.
The ultimate conclusion may well be that current regulatory definitions just do not work, and that we need a new form of regulation of the the drafting of interactive court assistance software, one that protects the consumer against fraud in marketing and incompetence in execution. Given the interstate nature of the services, Federal consumer protection regulation might be the answer.