There is a critical mass of proponents to do away with state bar admission for lawyers and even the requirement that one be trained and validated in law at all. They come at it from two different directions. One side does so to open greater opportunity for young and solo practitioners to get clients from any source possible, anywhere possible.
The other because of the A2J problem, access to justice as it’s called, in order to fulfill the needs of people who either can’t afford a lawyer, or are too cheap to pay for a lawyer because they would rather spend their money to buy the newest iToy.
The former group is also a strong proponent of lawyers marketing themselves on the internet, puffing their mad skillz and experience even if they’ve only been admitted for 12 minutes. The ethical proscriptions against deception are just old lawyers’ way of keeping them down.
What these different groups have in common is that they claim there is no serious downside to their proposals. Who has ever been harmed, they demand to know? What could possibly go wrong?
But when you put this all together, you get Fiverr. And as Keith Lee explains, it’s a toilet.
“Need legal consulting, contracts drafted, or advice? I have experience in almost all areas of law and can answer almost any legal question! Only $5. (Educational purposes only, not actual legal advice)”
As Keith found, not only is there no shortage of purported lawyers offering to go “’round the world” for five bucks, but they aren’t even lawyers.
So here is someone offering to draft contracts and do legal writing for $5.
The profile claims to be Jason M. Dick, a member of “the state of New York bar.” The funny thing about state bars though, most of them have public directories. And there is no “Jason M. Dick” listed as an attorney in New York. I also took a moment to run the profile image through Tineye, the reverse image search system. It turns out that the image was scrapped from the portfolio of a photographer. The person in the picture is actually an attorney, but his name is Howard Michael, and he is a shareholder at Brinks, Gilson, & Lione. Not exactly the type of guy slumming for work on Fiverr. So here we have an example of a blatantly false and deceptive profile offering explicit legal services on Fiverr.
Does that mean the contract you get from your $5 “gig” isn’t legal, isn’t appropriate, won’t serve your purpose? Not necessarily. Maybe it’s a guy who bought a form off LegalZoom and is now reselling it at $5 a pop. Maybe it’s a lawyer from Bangalore. Maybe it’s a former jailhouse lawyer trying to make a living? Who knows what it is.
Except we do know that it’s a lie. And as Keith learned, Fiverr is filled up to its eyeballs in such lies, advertisements for gigs by non-existent lawyers claiming to be lawyers. What are the chances that clients will vet their potential $5 lawyer to figure out whom they’re entrusting their lives and fortunes to?
That this constitutes the crime of Unlawful Practice of Law isn’t exactly controversial. People are not allowed to pretend to be lawyers and sell legal services to anyone willing to pay. Not even on the internet, the ethics-free zone.
One of the earliest observations about the internet was made in 1993 by Peter Steiner for the New Yorker.
And 22 years later, it’s still a truism. It’s not that people use whatever tool they can to run the scam, but that we enable it, encourage it, by closing our eyes as tightly as possible and screaming “lalalala” whenever anyone raises the fact that anyone can pretend to be a lawyer on the internet, and any lawyer can be a liar on the internet, and yet they pretend it doesn’t really happen.
Fiverr is an Israeli company, but it has a United States presence, and it has in-house lawyers. And it has a section for legal services. There is no excuse for their not knowing that they’re facilitating a crime. If they had a section for cheap cocaine, would that be cool too? Okay, don’t answer that.
If someone who thinks they’ve stumbled onto a magic way to get cheap legal services, and who doesn’t consider the likelihood that real lawyers aren’t usually inclined to sell their services at $5 per gig, gets hurt, where will they turn? Sure, they will blame lawyers. After all, if we didn’t charge for our time and advice, they could go down to the corner brick and mortar law office and pick up a couple of wills and a house closing, as needed.
But when they find out that the faux Fiverr lawyer gave them a form that doesn’t meet the requirements of a jurisdiction, isn’t really a competent legal document, and it results in a devastating loss, where will they turn? While Fiverr may not be able to take comfort in Section 230 safe harbor, given that they’re making money by splitting the fee with their “lawyer,” will the harmed client be able to hold them liable for enabling a scam? After all, it’s not like the client did his due diligence before shelling out his $5, and Fiverr didn’t vouch for its gigster even if it enjoys its piece of the deal.
Years ago, we quarreled over how long it would take for lawyers to gain some degree of internet savvy. Back then, few lawyers had any serious involvement with, or knowledge of, how things worked online. I would have expected that lawyers would have a clue by now. They don’t.
Maybe they know some of the names of the better known websites and an app or two (though Flashlight remains the most beloved app for smartphones), but the vast majority of lawyers don’t really use the internet, don’t get it, don’t have the savvy to distinguish the ignorance of the arguments being used to undermine the integrity of the profession. They’re like children on the internet. Dumb, naïve, clueless children.
If they weren’t, they would be marching on Fiverr’s office demanding they end their complicity in the scam. Instead, they’re asking each other on listservs whether Fiverr is for real, and they will never read Keith Lee’s post because they have yet to discover blawgs. And even if they did, they wouldn’t have a clue which blawgs were credible and which were written by a dog.