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Note: Stifled Justice: The Unauthorized Practice of Law and Internet Legal Resources

By Mathew Rotenberg. Full text here.

Advances in computer technology are effectively commoditizing the law and revolutionizing the ways in which individuals seek and receive legal services. Internet Legal Providers (ILPs) present tremendous potential for increased access to legal services, which is vital to an increasing number of unrepresented litigants, as well as to combat shrinking amounts of legal aid available to them. However, most unauthorized practice statutes were drafted prior to the emergence of the Internet or without any focus on recent advancements in computer research capabilities. As a result, these statutes lack clarity, and their application to ILPs is outdated and forced. This has created myriad and inconsistent regulation of internet legal space.

This Note posits that the legal profession is not, and should not be, immune from technology that is transforming all of us in innumerable ways. Seen in this light, the vague and outmoded language of the unauthorized practice statutes, and their uneven application, is a more serious problem than ever before. It decreases confidence in the legal system and prevents millions of potential users who stand to benefit significantly from the growth of ILPs. This Note offers solutions to anachronistic and inconsistent unauthorized practice of law statutes as they relate to non-attorney internet legal providers, while recognizing that some regulation of ILPs is needed.

This Note argues that the legal community, the unauthorized practice committees, and state judiciaries should embrace significant advances in ILP technology, and adopt relaxed regulatory schemes with baseline disclosure and accreditation safeguards. By certifying that proper safety mechanisms are in place to protect consumers, without substantially limiting the ILPs capacity to improve delivery of legal service, millions of Americans will for the first time be able to enjoy safe and meaningful access to the judicial system.