It’s a new year and, of course, for many that means a time of reflection and goal-setting and much talk of how the new year will be different from the prior year.
I will spare you much of that because you can find that all over the Internet. I am prompted to post today (in addition to just wanting to get back on the horse after the holiday break) because there has been some news today of note that tends to demonstrate that 2018 is likely going to be a lot like 2017 in terms of what matters and must be discussed.
Today, The Florida Bar and a marketplace technology company, Legal.io, announced a partnership in order to modernize The Florida Bar’s Florida Lawyer Referral Service. You can read the announcement here.
There are a multitude of reasons why this step in Florida could matter greatly — particularly if it is successful — because other bar associations might follow suit (if such endeavors are not already in the works). The key seems to be whether any action like this is too late to gain traction with consumers who are already turning to other, similar for-profit endeavors. I have little doubt that lawyers will be more comfortable with such arrangements because of the safety involved with not having to worry about ethics issues of fee sharing or improper payments for referrals if they can work through bar referral programs. Florida is an interesting place for this to happen at this moment in time as well because one might expect this development could be raised in the TIKD antitrust litigation, for example, as more fodder for arguments of claimed collusive behavior in the marketplace for legal services by the bar.
And, along those lines (but sort of flipped 180 degrees), there was another development late last year that I haven’t mentioned but that will likely be significant for lawyers in 2018. It is this lawsuit filed on the other coast against LegalZoom and a number of state bar associations (as well as the USPTO) that seeks $60 million in antitrust damages. You can read a nice story about this suit filed in California federal court – and what the Plaintiff in it is really trying to accomplish — here.
In short, although the suit alleges that LegalZoom is engaged in unauthorized practice and competes in a way that is unfair to lawyers, and alleges that the USPTO, the California bar, the Texas bar, and the Arizona bar are somehow turning a blind-eye to the conduct to allow it to continue, the Plaintiff, an IP lawyer and entrepreneur named Raj V. Abhyanker, admits that what he’s really looking for is a court ruling that tells him that he, and other lawyers, can use the same business model as LegalZoom without fear of ethical ramifications.
So, you know, stay tuned.