Website Busted For Not Having A Law License

from the tell-it-to-the-judge dept

A website that helped people file for bankruptcy has been found by a court to have been engaged in the unlicensed practice of law. The issue came about when a court found errors in an individual’s bankruptcy filing, and he blamed the online service. At issue is whether the site offered a mere clerical service (helping people enter data into the proper forms), or whether it actually exercised intelligence and made decisions, which would then constitute an actual legal service. The court found the latter, and said that the site had no right to operate. On the face of it, the ruling doesn’t seem too bad, since the site apparently didn’t perform its job very well. However, the offense here was not that it made mistakes, but that it offered the service at all. What this means, presumably, is that a site that did an excellent job at helping people file for bankruptcy wouldn’t be allowed to operate either. This ruling essentially protects lawyers against competition from new technologies, and allows them to keep their prices artificially high. If an artificially intelligent computer were to get to the point that it could perform basic legal services at the same level as a trained lawyer, why should that be prevented? Issues such as this one are becoming increasingly common. Earlier this year, an insurance agent got into trouble for helping a client draw up her will with the help of a Quicken product. Although the software itself was legitimate, using the software to help a client apparently qualified as the “unauthorized practice of law”. Again, by limiting how people use technology as a substitute for an expensive, professional service, we’re essentially granting lawyers a very lucrative exemption from competition.

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Comments on “Website Busted For Not Having A Law License”

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Just some guy says:


There is NO other industry that has as much protection as attorneys. Not only do they decide who joins their ranks (they can keep from practice even those who graduate law school and pass the bar exam), but also self-police. Is your doctor guilty of malpractice? Call a lawyer. If your lawyer is guilty of malpractice? Oh, well you’ll have to call another lawyer who is likely to be sympathetic to the attorney.

Enrico Suarve (user link) says:

Makes kind of sense to me

These laws have nothng really to do with technology except that technology can be used as part of the job, same as in any other walk of life

Fact is that your average citizen is not allowed to practice law on behalf of others, I’d always thought this was to protect other citizens from ‘rogue’ lawyers, this is in the same way that pretending to be a policeman will usually get you in trouble…

There are enough complaints about lawyers who *have* passed the bar – if they can be so poor at their jobs think about how bad lawyers who have not undergone any training could be

If we put the arguement in reverse, if this were allowed, in future it would be really easy for bogus lawyers just to state “I wasn’t practicing law your honour, I was doing tech support….”

There is a big difference between using a tool to perform a legal task for yourself (presumably you know whether you are a lawyer or not so you can’t rip you off), and someone else using a tool to help you. In this case the program itself was making decisions but the decision making was written by someone who had not passed the bar, so in effect they were gaining profit for passing out legal advice they were not qualified to give

Urrgh – I just defended lawyers, I feel dirty and wrong – time for a bath!

Kevin says:

I'm interested in the insurance agent issue

I mean, lets say my mother wants to do a will and she is using this Quicken product. Let’s also assume that she’s not very tech literate, and that some of the legal language involved in creating the will is confusing to her too. So if I help her and offer her advice based on my own experience in creating my will, does that leave me open to being dinged too?

The infamous Joe says:

Re: I'm interested in the insurance agent issue


It is not illegal to give advice about anything, including law advice. However, it’s illegal to *charge* for your law advice.

So, help your mother with her will all you want, and you’re just a (presuably) concerned son. When you charge her for the help, you are now practicing law without a license. (which is a no-no.)

For the record, IANAL.

Jon says:

Re: Huh?

The problem is that you really don’t need to go to college for x years and pass the bar exam to be helpful in certain areas, such as drawing up a will, writing a simple contract, or even filing bankruptcy papers. As long as you clearly state that you are not a lawyer and that your liability for mistakes is very limited, then I don’t see a problem.

This ruling, as stated here, would prevent people from giving good advice without a law degree. And considering what lawyers make per hour, a little competition in the less complicated areas is a good thing.

But yeah, suing someone? Get a lawyer.

Brad says:

Re: Re: Huh?

The issue is one of liability. The “lawyer” screwed up and the client wants to hold them liable. If a person claims to have good advise they should stand by their advise. Lawyers have to stand by their counsel and are not allowed to limit their liability via disclaimers. Why should a non-lawyer be able to offer competition to lawyers and not play by the same rules?

security (user link) says:

Standards & Certification

It is understandable why there must be official standards must in place to protect consumers – also why society must invest in alternate resources for information.

So, perhaps a special validation or certification could be mandated for these legal Websites.

Since they are focussed only on just a portion of the law, it may not be practical for the owners to be mandated have a law degree or even HIRE a lawyer to front as a Web site owner.

But a group or board that validates the legal accuracy of any legal information on a law Website, then puts the validation and on that site and on THEIR official site as a checkpoint – could be an pragmatic option.

Or they could just pay a Lawyer to review or rewrite the info and attest for its accuracy

Nobody Special says:

problem with simplifying complicated issues

The issue of an insurance agent assisting a person in drawing up a will is a complicated one. The thing is that the agent had a vested interest in doing so. It should be presumed that this basic service helped him sell insurance. And he is not qualified to determine if the simple will from Quicken would meet the real needs of a client. He in fact provided a legal service.

So should a web legal form site be required to have an attorney? I think this is not unreasonable. We don’t know the problem that occurred on the forms. It could be as simple as the client failed to put the right information in the right place. But it could be that the form itself was flawed. Or it could be that it gave incorrect information. And all of this is why attorneys are paid. It is not unreasonable to expect that such a site keep an attorney on retainer to go over all of their pages and ensure accuracy.

Such expectations will in fact tighten the competition. And they will come about more and more. It is not always about protecting one’s profession. Sometimes it is about protecting people from bad advice. Attorneys can be sued for malpractice. Can a web site?

Scott (profile) says:


The issue lies with the LAW. Make the LAW more black and white and laws are no longer open to interpretation. THEN, we can program a website with the black and white laws, and it can do the job of an attorney. HAHA!! I know, that will never happen, there are WAAAY too many people who use the gray area of the law to get what they want, and those are the same people who have 90% of the wealth in the country!!

TheDock22 says:

Re: Laws...

Okay Scott, you have made by far the dumbest post of this article.

Laws can not be black and white because so many variables need to be taken into account. Just like nobody can really code a program that acts and functions EXACTLY like the human brain, too many variables. If the law were black and white, a person who shoots somebody could get the death penalty, even if that person was protecting their family by shooting an intruder (keeping a gun next to your bed is premeditated murder). We need to interpret the law to what best suits the situation, taking into account a person’s frame of mind, intent, and a host of other things.

Again, this website is completely in the wrong. This guy could have filed his own bankruptcy form and made the same mistake. But he used a service that supposedly checks the form to ensure accuracy. They failed, and (along with previous posts) this guy can not sue them for malpractice, whereas if he was using a lawyer he could.

Most lawyers are NOT in it for the money and do not scam people out of their settlement money. All you whining people out there, you can always do your OWN legal work. If you want to waste time putting together your case and representing yourself, go for it. As for me, lawyers and just as valuable as doctors when it comes to ensuring my freedoms and my life. And when things go wrong, like doctors, I can sue them for their failure to do business.

And WHY do lawyers charge so much? The exact same reason doctors charge so much, malpractice insurance is through the roof. Why not get made at the insurance companies rather than people who are just making a living?

a says:

Re: Laws...

Scott, you really don’t want the law black and white. Do that and you get problems like Michigan had when it would send drug offenders to prison for 30 years for minor offenses.

Sure, lawyers protect themselves, but so do doctors, accountants and others. They regulate themselves so the govt. doesn’t. How would you feel if you mom took some advise from a website in setting up her will and then you found out they gave her bad advise and then you lost your millions? You would probably be looking to sue someone, wouldn’t you?

Trouble Maker says:

two cents worth

Oh, the Judge didn’t think about this one. He has just set precedence. This means that you are convicted of a crime and it can be blamed that there was an error in your defense you can hold the lawyer legally responsible. In turn if the Judge made an error in law, then he can be sued.

But then… (mounting the soapbox)… PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY!

Anonymous Coward says:

The Low-down from a Lawyer

As Alexander Pope famously wrote, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

You people are positively lethal!

Here’s the bottom line from an attorney: Imagine this same situation but without any use of technology. Non-lawyers cannot practice law. It’s that simple. You don’t get health advice from your auto mechanic and you don’t get auto advice from your accountant, etc. It’s NOT the computers involved, it’s the legal advice and decision making by the non-lawyer advisers that is at issue. Period.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The Low-down from a Lawyer

“…you don’t get auto advice from your accountant…”

I’m sure that being an accountant automatically precludes you from knowing anything about cars, right?

Don’t get me wrong, I think that things as sticky as legal matters should be handled by someone who has a certified ability in that respect (and can be held accountable for his/her mistakes). However, I think that was a poor example, speaking as an accountant who does extensive work on her own cars and often gives basic advice to friends and family (though I’ll admit that I do know when to refer them to a mechanic).

Overcast says:

awww, poor lawyers all mad someone’s stepping on their toes. Freakin’ scumbags. You know – I’ve heard they aren’t such bad people – but after working for a law-firm for two years in IT – I believe that even less. Boy are there some skeletons in those closets…

Pretty soon we’ll have software to do interpretations of the law and then judge offenders, we won’t need lawyers or judges anymore…


Oh my, that was just a wonderful dream, lol

I’m surprised Jack Thompson isn’t suing yet.

TheDock22 says:

Re: Re:

Again, Overcast takes the award for the biggest idiot in this forum.

I don’t care if you worked in IT for a lawfirm, a hospital, business office, or whatever. There will ALWAYS be some idiots who shouldn’t be in the business.

And, as I mentioned before but I guess Overcast can not read anything other than his own idiotic comments, there are way too many variables to take into account for a program to be able to determine what happens in a court of law.

Until they can come up with an AI program smart enough to behave as a human being would, programs to judge people will NEVER be effective. Overcast obviously is a horrible IT guy since the main rule of IT is to server your customers/patrons/coworkers and handle their COMPUTER problems, not judge them on something you have no comprehension of, like the law.

PhysicsGuy says:


i’d have to disagree with your assessment as to why we cannot make a computer that works exactly like the human brain. i’d have to say that it’s entirely possible to do so. presently, the real limit is not the amount of variables, but rather knowledge of the precise workings of the brain and technological impediments. there are already artificially intelligent computer systems that work on the concept of neural networks, it’s only a matter of time before we advance them to the point of working like a brain. of course, to make them EXACTLY like a human brain, you’d have to cut back on pure computational aspects… and why would you want to do that?

TheDock22 says:

Re: Laws...

But you would have to have some way to program in emotions, irrational decisions, and environmental into a computer that would have no way of understanding these variables. Many crimes committed are crimes of passion, how is a computer going to judge you if it can’t understand the basic concept of love or hate?

Until I see someone successfully program emotions into a computer program so that the computer understands why it is having this emotion, I will hold on to the belief this is impossible.

PhysicsGuy says:

The Low-down from a Lawyer

if my auto mechanic studied human biology and medicine, i would, indeed, get health advice from him/her. if my accountant was knowledgeable about cars, i would, indeed, get automobile advice from him/her. if my physicist friend studied law prior to obtaining his degree in physics, i would take legal advice from him/her as well. if someone has devoted enough time to the study of a particular field, even if that’s not the field they’re presently employed in, then i would certainly take advice from that person. it’s that simple.

PhysicsGuy says:


the emulation of neurotransmitters. you do realize that there are plenty of people who have no understanding of why they have emotion, yet they still undergo emotions and contain functioning human brains? understanding of emotions is not a prerequisite for having emotions, if a neural network is trained to undergo a particular response in relation to external stimulus based on varying degrees of “favorable and unfavorable”, even if it doesn’t understand why it’s undergoing said response and scaling these particular responses as “favorable and unfavorable”, then i don’t see how it wouldn’t be undergoing emotions. the human brain is, after all, an intricately complex computer; therefore, i see no reason why another intricately complex computer created by people could not emulate all of its functions.

TheDock22 says:

Re: Laws...

I’ll give you one example. Pain. In some situations it gives a response of sadness, anger, and “fight-or-flight responses. In other situations though, it can give a feeling of pleasure, happiness, or a host of other warm fuzzy feelings.

When you program an emotion into a computer, it would feel that same emotion no matter what the circumstances. Think of how difficult it would be to tell a computer these million painful things should cause sadness while these million painful things should cause pleasure. And that would be nearly impossible to make into an algorithm since everyone has a different idea of when pain is bad or good.

I just don’t see how it is possible, but someday in the future they might be able to take all this into account.

PhysicsGuy says:


i suggest you look into neural network based computers and neurology in general. you don’t necessarily program in whether pain definitely causes this or definitely causes that, you allow those things to be trained, that’s how neural networks work. you might have an initial pain response, much how living organisms are naturally disinclined towards pain, however throughout the training progression of our brain (and what you’d have for the computer) we associate patterns in the present stimulus we’re receiving with patterns in past experiences. our memory serves to mediate our reaction to the present, hence why we can come to produce pleasure for specific types of pain (usually a sexual relation). there are patterns in the present s&m situation that match past experiences where we underwent a strong “pleasureable” emotional experience, this association causes us to enjoy the pain we’re currently receiving. see, you don’t tell the computer anything specific, except maybe that it should initially avoid pain (as we do, for survival purposes), what happens is the network configures itself in such a way that it can relate the information it’s presently receiving to things it previously underwent. when you initially built the machine, it would be like a child, it would have to have experiences in order to formulate the relation of “favorable to unfavorable” in regards to emotional responses that i had mentioned above. naturally you’d give it a set of “instincts” to begin with, but over time it develops itself (which is a generalization of how a brain works).

personally, i think the last thing we should do is give a.i. emotions (think pissed off robots), but it is 100% possible…

PhysicsGuy says:


i think i should note, that a computer system based off of neural networks is nothing at all like the computer you’re presently using. if you’re talking about giving your PC the ability to have emotions, then no: it’s not presently possible. however, give it about 20 years and it might be possible to construct a purely software based neural network system on your home pc (we’re talking an absurd amount of computations). currently, these neural networked based a.i. systems are a mesh of software and more importantly hardware configured to work like our brains functions.

TheDock22 says:

Re: yea...

Thanks I’ll look into it. I guess my thought was being limited to PC’s by today’s standards. But I agree 20 years from now, things will change drastically when it involves computers.

And I’m not sure I like the idea of programs having emotions anymore than you do, but for a successful judge-and-jury sort of program, you would hope the A.I. at least understands human emotions.

SnakeInTheGrass says:

Employ a Lawyer to Write Your Code

Is it correct that the firm wrote a form that helped people file for bankruptcy, charged a small fee for helping to prepare the bankrupty form, but didn’t employ a lawyer to design the form?

If so, could they get around this by hiring an attorney to write, or at least review the code, thereby making the attorney responsible for ensuring the correct decisions and advice is provided?

I think there’s a growing trend on the part of the judiary to prevent frivlous bankrupty filings, a trend that bigger than whats happening just on e-bankruptcy websites. One bankrupty judge I appeared before expressed just this sentiment .. that paralegal bankruptcy firms are interested in profit, not regulated by bar associations, and frequently advise people to file for bankrupty when bankruptcy really isn’t the best solution for a debtor (e.g. filign bankrupty for relative small amounts thereby preventing one from being able to file bankruptcy for another 7 years — even if they really need it).

Nobody Special says:

several things

1) I am not a lawyer. I am a computer tech

2) Why assume there is a problem with a will writing party? While in the Army several times they came and sat with soldiers to draft wills in similar format. The difference is that we didn’t have comfy places to sit while waiting (and no snacks).

3) I agree about offering free advice. Nothing is wrong with helping your parents out in filling out a form in Quicken to create a will. Of course running said will by a lawyer is also a good idea. The problem is that an insurance agent could be said to be using legal services to further his/her business.

4) I consider advice from anyone who has sound reasoning and some sort of experience or knowledge concerning the subject at hand. Thus I would listen to a lawyer, doctor, or accountant about a car experiance. But I wouldn’t take my car to them for repair.

Bob Weiss (profile) says:

Who writes the laws? Hmmm...Lawyers?

This is just another example from a long list of example where attorneys get themselves elected to our legislative bodies, and do everything they can to increase business for their profession.

I have maintained that if the Senate, Congress, and state legislatures were full of building inspectors, it would be so difficult to build that we would all be living in tents.

If it was full of pharmacists, we’d all be forced to be taking medication.

As it is now, it is impossible to do almost anything without an attorney, and every day they pass new laws that turn another group of law-abiding citizens into criminals

Col. Ken (user link) says:

Not so black and white as low down from a lawyer s

I’ve been in the legal profession for over thirty five years and have two law degrees, an LLB and an LLM. I’ve never sat for the bar or even applied to do so because I simply didn’t want to “practice” law – my earned degrees and my decision what to do with them.

Anyone can practice law for themselves on a pro-se basis. Not an excellent idea as far as I’m concerned but indeed a right and not a privilege. However, any damned fool, which would definitely include slip and fall lawyers and other low-life bottom feeders can draft a will, a simple to fairly complex contract, a power of attorney, a bankruptcy filing and many (yes many – hundreds as a matter of fact) legal documents, including petitions/complaints, motions etc. And many times do a far better job with/on them than a “licensed”/”certified”/”practicing” member of the bar and do so without being dangerous or lethal.

Many, many, many lawyers overcharge, the majority of lawyers are lazy and lie without compunction, know damned little about the law or correctly interpreting it, cheat, steal, and frequently (sadly, also intentionally) commit malpractice and fraud and violations of fiduciary responsibilities with impunity. That’s inculcated in their nature of the beast. And those thousands upon thousands of worthless lawyers are ofttimes the worst “counselors” from which one should seek legal advice.

If someone (Abraham Lincoln would of course have been a prime example) who never ever stepped foot inside a law school but by determination studied the law (not to mention civil and criminal rules of procedure) and had the heart and spirit for understanding its purpose and application I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment consulting with them about a legal matter and listening carefully to their advice and actually following it. Beats paying a moronic idiot to botch a job or carve you up as a client with some asshole with whom he/she then goes and drinks with afterwards. Too many plea bargains because of lawyers in for a quick buck, too many inadequate settlements, too many litigated cases without real adversarial proceedings – all due to too many jackasses with bar cards.

I personally think every American citizen should make it their personal responsibility to attend law school or to study law online or whatever but its absurd for the unaware to be left at the mercy of some jerk who advertises in the TV Guide or a billboard or television or the yellow pages or radio.

Lawyers should not be trusted – EVER until they have a proven track record and their clients should come to them because they are referred to them by friends, relatives, or acquaintances who have been well and successfully represented and are not hesitant to recommend the lawyer.

Finally, Jesus The Christ and ONLY Begotten Son of GOD, during his earthly ministry to and on behalf of mankind had no problem being surrounded by whores, tax collectors, simple fishermen, thieves, and sinners of all kinds with one exception – LAWYERS!!! Why was that so? Well, according to Him who certainly should know it’s a matter of Woe To Ye Lawyers – even though the Holy Spirit is called an advocate. So why such a harsh judgment? “For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers.”

Chuck (profile) says:

Work around lawyers

I started a message board a few months back, trying to get people helping people (no fees, no charges thus keeping the lawyer infested government from prosecuting anyone for “Unauthorized Practice.”

We (as private American citizens) can share information and experiences with each other and help eachother all we please, and there is NOTHING the goddamned lawyers can do about it! It went off pretty good for a while, and then I guess people just lost interest, or had their own problems resolved or ? ? ? Anyway, I posted the URL up in the window, so if anyone is interested in reading or contributing, there it is. I can’t affored to advertise and promote it, so I guess it will just die a natural death.
So, if anyone would like to take a look, here is the address again:

Have fun………


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