Warning: Schadenfreude opportunity ahead.
LegalZoom is suing RocketLawyer for “false and misleading advertising.” You can’t make this stuff up. Ah, the cottage industry hoping to feed off the public’s desire for free, if lousy, legal services started with mutual support, the live together or die alone approach, where the more entities trying to perpetrate the lie that they no longer need lawyers to do lawyer things, the better.
But the three-part harmony hit a sour note when they found themselves in a life and death struggle for that marginal dollar, all about the use of the most abused word in the legal schemers lexicon, ”free.”
In order to prevent the continued deception of consumers and small business owners seeking online legal protection and to compel RocketLawyer to comply with well established industry rules, LegalZoom has filed a 14-page suit alleging false and misleading advertising, trademark infringement and unfair competition against RocketLawyer in the United States District Court for the Central District of California.
The central issue before the court is what LegalZoom believes is RocketLawyer’s false and misleading advertising. LegalZoom believes the facts in this case are clear and compelling and that a jury will understand that RocketLawyer has violated FTC guidelines and crossed well over the line in its marketing.
There is one consistent element permeating every scheme to make a quick buck off the poor and miserable people who need a lawyer and either can’t afford one or, as is more likely the case, just prefer not to pay. Free.
This lawsuit is simply about stopping what LegalZoom believes is a deceptive advertising practice. When customers are tricked into believing that services are ‘free,’ but then discover numerous fees down the line, they will lose faith in both the law and the industry. Competition is always a healthy dynamic, but fair play requires that all competitors follow the law.
Free is the hook. Free is what gets people’s attention. Free is what pulls them in, and LegalZoom is angry that RocketLawyer is using free more effectively than it is. Nobody makes money giving its product away for free, and both LegalZoom and RocketLawyer exist for one purpose only: to make money.
They make money without the constraints of ethics. They’re under no obligation of competency. Heck, they can make up their own meaning for words at will, and challenge the public to figure out the scheme. Until one of their own gets angry enough to sue for taking away their audience of people who want free.
Want to bet that LegalZoom didn’t use on of its pre-written, fill-in-the-blank, any-idiot-can-be-their-own-lawyer complaints to start the action? Want to bet LegalZoom has real lawyers doing real lawyer-work? They’re not stupid enough to use the crap sell. They want better. Nothing tricky about it.
And yet the trend toward trickery continues to pick up support. At the Legal Whiteboard, Miami lawprof Michele DeStefano strings words together:
Instead, those left standing will be those that move the capital “I” from a place that has historically kept the legal profession in a closed environment, to a place where there is “Interaction” with non-lawyers, “Interdisciplinary” collaboration “Inter-department” education, and, above all, “Innovation.” Those left standing may not all be legal entrepreneurs but they most certainly will be Intrapreneurs.
“Smart organizations will seek out individuals who like to invent, innovate and want to be on the front lines of change. These individuals can work independently but even more important can work seamlessly as part of an integrated team structure and also effectively embrace and embody the culture of the intrapreneur’s host organization.”
So although it is true that these new entreprenurial focused law ventures are made up of many legal rebels and law disrupters and legal entrepreneurs, and that they attempt to instill an entrepreneurial spirit in all that participate.
How cute is that? Just replace the “E” with an “I” and pray that nobody notices that you’ve said absolutely nothing. Cool, right? Mavericky. Legal Rebelly. Except that it means nothing.
My pal, USC lawprof Gillian Hadfield is back on the march with a new article. Lawyers, Make Room For Nonlawyers. After pounding on her position that too many people are denied legal representation because they can’t afford it (certainly a valid point),
What we need are more efficient ways of delivering legal help and less expensive nonlawyers who can provide legal assistance. Supreme court judges in every state have the authority to accomplish this with the stroke of a pen.
That’s why the only way to increase access to justice is to expand the group of people and organizations that can provide legal help beyond JD-trained and licensed lawyers.
Imagine how much more efficient the court would be if the unrepresented could obtain low-cost legal assistance from people expert enough to help them navigate the process. Especially if those people were using the systems and protocols developed by a large-scale company, maybe even online.
Like, say, LegalZoom or RocketLawyer? Or, this being small business Saturday, Joe’s Nonlawyer Legal Representation and Barbershop?
I’m down with Gillian’s idea that it’s time to create a “B” team of legal representation, though how to do so without sacrificing people’s lives on the alter of cheap or free is hardly a simple matter. I’ve offered my approach.
But given that we have a monumental surplus of unemployed full-fledged lawyers already, and inexplicably they aren’t setting up kiosks in malls offering inexpensive legal advice to those in need, reality suggests that even non-lawyer lawyers will want to make as much money as the market will bear, and nobody is rushing into the breach to offer their services to those in need.
Yet, we persist in the fantasy that some new group of altruists will come into being to serve their fellow man, happy to spend their time and money training to provide some lesser degree of legal services at wages trumped by the assistant manager job at Dairy Queen?
The lesson of LegalZoom suing RocketLawyer, these Intrapreneur entities on the cutting edge of delivering free legal services for as much money as they can scam out of the unsuspecting while delivering cut-rate legal services to those who can’t tell the difference, comes to mind.
There is a problem, that many people cannot afford competent legal services. Gillian argues that the problem is bad, and I believe her. But the alternative to bad is either better or worse. It’s not getting any better, no matter how many meaningless words are strung together to create the sense that anything different from what now exists will somehow be an improvement.
Will LegalZoom win in its action to stop RocketLawyer from deceptive practices? Is anyone foolish enough to believe that it will make the delivery of legal services to those who can’t afford them any better?