Celebrating 10 years! 2007-2017

How great the progress: text a lawyer for $20

I don't practice, the fool that I am (letting a $1,000,000 d wolfman07/05/18
Legalzoom and Avvo got burned on these. Its an up front pre- snowday7507/05/18
Implicit in all this is the assumption that lawyers “can dupednontraditional07/05/18
Hopefully this service becomes a reality, the whole system n mtbislife07/05/18
Agreed. esquirewalletsmatter07/05/18
The answers will probably be “you should hire a lawyer” physicssezno07/05/18
It can be beneficial for lawyers when they get one-off quest dandydan07/05/18
Violates dang near every scope of rep ethics rule. Texting a snowday7507/05/18
tech destroys labor that, and mass data collection for sa whiteguyinchina07/05/18
Absolutely, this is the other edge of the technology sword. mtbislife07/06/18
Get back to me in 60 years. States are having a tough enough snowday7507/06/18
Because lolyers are dinosaurs stuck in their ways and are tr mtbislife07/06/18
What a service! "We bring the worst, bottom of the barrel cl guyingorillasuit07/05/18
Not to mention many clients that broke would rather spend th esquirewalletsmatter07/06/18
"We bring the worst, bottom of the barrel clients to your of wolfman07/06/18
Does anyone think text messaging is an appropriate medium to flharfh07/05/18
Could be fun. If a client has a particularly nasty fact patt brokelawyer07/06/18
sign in law office answers to legal questions. $2 answ defensivelawyer07/06/18
Haha snowday7507/06/18
Client: Halp! I need legal advise! Lawyer: What can I do wutwutwut07/06/18
Conflict checks. Just conflict checks. This might be the midlaw07/07/18
What do you propose as an alternative solution? esquirewalletsmatter07/07/18
PC: Someone owes me rent! What do I do? Lawyer: If they'r isthisit07/07/18
Great example. This is what I hate about people emailing me cranky07/08/18
It reminds me a lot of Dave Ramsey’s ELP network. On t snowday7507/09/18
If they include a button to cancel the question with no pena ternarydaemon07/07/18
Even if ethical this would never work. It sounds perfect for thirdtierlaw07/09/18
Wonder if I could get some VC funding for my idea LMaas jackofspeed07/09/18
I think most lawyers already offer that service. You are go nycatt07/09/18
I'm ready to Lyft to their Uber. There's value in being t jackofspeed07/09/18
LOL nycatt07/09/18
I am a big fan of limited scope representation if done right onehell07/10/18
like most ppl, i stopped reading at middle of paragraph two. whiteguyinchina07/12/18

wolfman (Jul 5, 2018 - 2:28 pm)

I don't practice, the fool that I am (letting a $1,000,000 degree go to waste) but that means there is more business for the rest of y'all; go ahead, sign up, you could make a whole eighteen dollars, I think, after the 3 years taking out loans, bar exam, C&F, CLEs, et al:

https://www.law.com/therecorder/2018/07/05/this-serial-entrepreneur-thinks-finding-a-lawyer-can-be-as-easy-as-hailing-an-uber/?kw=This%20%27Serial%20Entrepreneur%27%20Thinks%20Finding%20a%20Lawyer%20Can%20Be%20as%20Easy%20as%20Hailing%20an%20Uber&et=editorial&bu=The%20Recorder&cn=20180705&src=EMC-Email&pt=Breaking%20News

For those w/out access, here it is (the serial entrepreneur being a Vermont LS grad, you know it's gotta be good):

This 'Serial Entrepreneur' Thinks Finding a Lawyer Can Be as Easy as Hailing an Uber
For $20, Kevin Gillespie’s Text A Lawyer service lets consumers send a legal question to a pool of lawyers to pick up for a response.
By Ian Lopez | July 05, 2018

Alternative legal services providers (ALSPs) have taken hits from state bar associations in recent months, battling allegations that the ways they operate violate rules of professional conduct (RPCs).

Kevin Gillespie, a self described “serial entrepreneur,” believes he’s found a way to leverage tech for lower-cost legal services while managing to comply with these rules. His answer is mobile platform “Text a Lawyer,” an app-based service where a consumer fires off a legal question into the ether and lawyers flock to answer them.

Describing the platform as “Uber for lawyers,” Gillespie told Legaltech News that Text A Lawyer functions via two apps, one for consumers and one for lawyers. He noted that both will be free for download, though the client app charges a “flat one dollar software license fee” per question submitted and a four dollar as an “attorney verification fee,” which includes identity and license verification services. Potential clients are charged $20 (and “some cents” for a credit processing fee) per initial question, which includes a brief discussion with a lawyer, then $9 per follow up question. Clients can then print out the Q&A and use it as needed.

“I figure everyone’s got 20 bucks. So I’m trying to bridge the gap between lawyers, at hundreds dollars an hour, that blue collar Americans cannot afford … with what they can afford,” Gillespie said. “I’ve [tried] many different pricing models, and i keep coming back to that.”

Like an ride-sharing service, the app functions as a marketplace for free agent service providers to profit. In this case, that agent is the lawyer, who collects a fee of $15 per first question and $8 a follow up. Also like a ride-sharing service, users can rate attorneys, though Gillespie said that these ratings are “kept internal” and only used to connect a user “with the best lawyer available.”

“It’s the Yelp approach, except the clients never see them,” Gillespie added.

Lawyer ratings have led to complications for ALSPs in the past. In August 2017, the New York State Bar Association issued an opinion declaring Avvo’s practice of offering to find clients a lawyer with a money-back guarantee in violation of New York Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2(a), which states: “A lawyer shall not compensate or give anything of value to a person or organization to recommend or obtain employment by a client, or as a reward for having made a recommendation resulting in employment by a client…”

Likewise, both LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer received complaints from several state bar associations over perceived violations of ethics rules involving fee-splitting and referrals.

While not yet available to consumers, Gillespie plans on issuing a beta version of Text A Lawyer in August or September in Oregon and Washington, and he has plans on eventual expansion to all 50 states. He noted that he designed the app “from the beginning” to be “as close as possible” to ethically compliant with RPCs in all 50 states. “There are a couple of states who will have their heads buried in the sand, their bar associations, I mean. [But] there’s nothing you can do about that,” he added.

Gillespie is no stranger to the practice of law or legal technology. Holding a JD from Vermont Law, he came up with the idea for Text a Lawyer in a “legal hacktivist” class in law school. He has some other ideas underway, too: His “Do I Need a Lawyer?” currently under development is planned to operate “basically like Turbo Tax: Yes and no questions that anyone could answer to help you determine if you need a lawyer,” he explained.

Gillespie also has an undeveloped idea called “Client Code,” which would serve as a marketplace for lawyers to bid on clients. Clients would be identified by descriptive tags, each letter or number of which representing a client trait (like criminal, client, attention needed, and wealth). By providing the code and not specific client information, Client Code would “avoid violating any RPC rules,” he added.

At present, though, Gillespie is focused on Text A Lawyer, which will solely focus on landlord/tenant issues in Oregon and Washington during its beta launch. He said the platform is also trying to get “up and running for immigration issues,” and plans to cover other areas like employment, traffic, cannabis, and civil rights.

Yet unlike other ALSPs, Gillespie doesn’t have plans for expansion into new service areas. “Every other one of my competitors—literally every single one, Rocket Lawyer to Avvo to Legal Zoom—have a plethora of different legal services. It’s fund a lawyer, do this, do that, and for somebody who maybe doesn’t have an education past high school, that is just overwhelming to them. And most of the time, they have a court paper in their hands they don’t understand. So Text A Lawyer removes the option—you don’t pick a lawyer. You don’t pick anything except a state and legal category.”

Copyright 2018. ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved.

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snowday75 (Jul 5, 2018 - 2:40 pm)

Legalzoom and Avvo got burned on these. Its an up front pre-retainer fee split the consumer could never have informed consent to make because they don’t “retain” the limited scope counsel until they pay the then-split fee. Courts and tribunals didn’t like these start-ups cuteness in “chicken or the egging” the fee-split as “pre-relationship.”

Serial huckster.

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dupednontraditional (Jul 5, 2018 - 4:25 pm)

Implicit in all this is the assumption that lawyers “can’t be” worth hundreds of dollars per hour.

No one ever analyzes the question, however - it is just assumed to be the case. Office space, insurance, student loans, CLEs...nah, all greed, that’s all. And the bleeding-heart law school cartel plays into this by saying things like “people need more access to justice.” (i.e. lawyers working for free). I wonder if the cartel would accept $20/text as part of its model re: students...

Competent, experienced lawyers are worth their money. Full stop. And we need a better way to make less-experienced lawyers more experienced. $20/text is not it.

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mtbislife (Jul 5, 2018 - 4:49 pm)

Hopefully this service becomes a reality, the whole system needs to hit rock bottom for people to wake up.

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esquirewalletsmatter (Jul 5, 2018 - 5:14 pm)

Agreed.

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physicssezno (Jul 5, 2018 - 4:34 pm)

The answers will probably be “you should hire a lawyer” lol like the answers often given on Avvo.

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dandydan (Jul 5, 2018 - 5:59 pm)

It can be beneficial for lawyers when they get one-off questions from a cheapo client who would not pay for legal services anyway. That client might otherwise go to a lawyer for a consult, agree to pay, and never actually hire the lawyer. This way, it is less formal and the lawyer does not really have to deal with the client.

The app may also help pro-se divorce litigants who think that they can handle the case because the judge will just listen to them because she will show everyone that her soon-to-be ex is a jerk. While most of what she says is not relevant, she can text a lawyer from the ladies room in case she somehow figures out that she is not doing a good job in the courtroom.

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snowday75 (Jul 5, 2018 - 6:09 pm)

Violates dang near every scope of rep ethics rule. Texting a ghostlawyer during trial? What?

Again, this model was already rejected by the majority of jurisdictions. This huckster is just looking for stupid VC money. Which, hey why not? But its an illegitimate service.

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whiteguyinchina (Jul 5, 2018 - 6:24 pm)

tech destroys labor

that, and mass data collection for sale is its sole aim

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mtbislife (Jul 6, 2018 - 2:29 pm)

Absolutely, this is the other edge of the technology sword. Posters here think ethics rule will save them, they wont, this will get implemented in some form or another.

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snowday75 (Jul 6, 2018 - 2:43 pm)

Get back to me in 60 years. States are having a tough enough time authorizing electronic court filing rules.

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mtbislife (Jul 6, 2018 - 2:46 pm)

Because lolyers are dinosaurs stuck in their ways and are trying to do anything to protect their jobs. You probably thought driverless cars and tellerless banks wouldnt happen either.

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guyingorillasuit (Jul 5, 2018 - 7:47 pm)

What a service! "We bring the worst, bottom of the barrel clients to your office, and expose you to liability, bad online reviews, and bar complaints for less than the cost of a hot lunch."

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esquirewalletsmatter (Jul 6, 2018 - 6:33 am)

Not to mention many clients that broke would rather spend the 20 bucks on a bag of weed. Get the most bang for your buck.

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wolfman (Jul 6, 2018 - 10:46 am)

"We bring the worst, bottom of the barrel clients to your office, and expose you to liability, bad online reviews, and bar complaints for less than the cost of a hot lunch."

That is one of the funniest things I've ever read here, peiod.

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flharfh (Jul 5, 2018 - 7:53 pm)

Does anyone think text messaging is an appropriate medium to provide competent legal representation? And what sane malpractice insurer would provide coverage to a lawyer who has 1,000 "clients" paying him $20 each?

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brokelawyer (Jul 6, 2018 - 2:51 am)

Could be fun. If a client has a particularly nasty fact pattern you could respond with a simple poo emoji.

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defensivelawyer (Jul 6, 2018 - 9:36 am)

sign in law office

answers to legal questions. $2

answers requiring thought.$20.

correct answers. $200.

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snowday75 (Jul 6, 2018 - 10:20 am)

Haha

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wutwutwut (Jul 6, 2018 - 12:06 pm)

Client: Halp! I need legal advise!

Lawyer: What can I do for you?

C: I got something in the mail, what do I do with it?

L: What does it say?

C: It says it's legal stuff and I'm in trouble.

L: What does it say?

C: It says something about being a suhpeena.

L: Okay, what does it say?

C: It says I have to do something or I'll be in trouble.

L: Okay, what does it say?

C: What do you think? I NEED your LEGAL ADIVSE! HALP

L: But what does the paper say?

C: It says it's legal stuff and I'm in trouble.

L: Tell me exactly what it says on the paper.

C: It says something about being a suhpeena.

L: Okay, I got that part. Does it say what court it is from?

C: YES! Thank you. It's from a court. WHAT SHOULD I DO?

L: Wait, which court is it from?

C: It's from the government court! What do I do?
(Etc. ad nauseam)

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midlaw (Jul 7, 2018 - 1:51 pm)

Conflict checks. Just conflict checks.

This might be the worst, most unethical thing I’ve ever heard of.

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esquirewalletsmatter (Jul 7, 2018 - 1:57 pm)

What do you propose as an alternative solution?

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isthisit (Jul 7, 2018 - 2:21 pm)

PC: Someone owes me rent! What do I do?

Lawyer: If they're still in possession of the unit, take them to landlord tenant court. If they already moved out than sue them in civil.

That'll be $20 dollars.

PC: OK. But how do I sue them?

Lawyer: Pay the $20 you already owe and we can continue.

Paid

Lawyer: OK, you sue them by filling out the appropriate court forms with the clerk and paying the filing fee. Make copies in triplicate. Keep a copy for yourself, one for the court, and one to serve on the plaintiff.

PC: OK I got that but which forms?!?!

Lawyer: Pay the $20 you owe for the last question and we can keep going.

Etc. I approve of this model so long as they provide or reimburse my malpractice insurance. And defend me in the eventual fee arbs.

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cranky (Jul 8, 2018 - 1:10 pm)

Great example. This is what I hate about people emailing me "just a question" or dumping paragraphs of their tale of woe by email or through my website. It usually snowballs into a long chain of more and more questions that need to be addressed. I don't see how an attorney is going to quickly be able to give competent legal advice through a few texts. This business model would cater to the lowest of potential clients, meaning they have no money.

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snowday75 (Jul 9, 2018 - 2:50 am)

It reminds me a lot of Dave Ramsey’s ELP network.

On the face of it it might sound advantageous to be a part of the network as a professional. Then you realize that most of Dave’s audience are so far in debt they don’t have the means to buy into any worthwhile fund and are all in the camp of investors with a high risk of liquidating in 24 months to cover an emergency.

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ternarydaemon (Jul 7, 2018 - 10:07 pm)

If they include a button to cancel the question with no penalty for the attorney, it may be possible. You would get low-end questions and many ridiculous ones, others plainly unethical, but an experienced attorney could answer most of them from head, without the need for research. If you answer 1 question a day, plus follow ups, that would be another 500 dollars each month, for 6-8 hours of work. Not bad for many solos.

Still, this would be for attorneys with 5+ years of experience.

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thirdtierlaw (Jul 9, 2018 - 6:50 am)

Even if ethical this would never work. It sounds perfect for, "which court form should I use?" type questions. But as outlined above, it'll then snowball, "now I'm filling out the form, am I the plaintiff or defendant?" "The form is asking if I've already served the other party, what does that mean?" "I don't know my ex's new email address, what do I put in that box?", "It says to check a box if I'm including an affidavit, do I need to attach an affidavit?" "what should I write in my affidavit?" and so on.

Next thing you know, you're getting a text saying, "wtf! Why am I getting billed $200, it was only supposed to be $15!? You're trying to scam me!" "I just got charged $15 for that last text! Stop billing me!"

Unless you're an attorney asking another attorney something, very rarely is a text message sufficient to adequately answer a legal question.

I don't blame the guy for thinking this would work. It's really law school's fault and I'm sure he was getting encouraged by professors who have never practiced law, or the type of law that this service is aimed at in their life, so they had no idea either.

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jackofspeed (Jul 9, 2018 - 8:38 am)

Wonder if I could get some VC funding for my idea

LMaas

Legal Malpractice as a service. (Pronounced lame-ass)

24/7 High Reliability legal malpractice on-demand with a scalable online platform.

The value-add is that customers can select the level of legal malpractice they want.

Full-blown unauthorized practice of law? Violations by specific Rules of professional conduct? Just ignore statues of limitation and repose? All available.

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nycatt (Jul 9, 2018 - 9:12 am)

I think most lawyers already offer that service. You are going to have to pivot.

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jackofspeed (Jul 9, 2018 - 10:19 am)

I'm ready to Lyft to their Uber.

There's value in being the credited #2 in a space.

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nycatt (Jul 9, 2018 - 10:45 am)

LOL

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onehell (Jul 10, 2018 - 1:08 pm)

I am a big fan of limited scope representation if done right, and they seem to have done their homework when designing this thing but there are still concerns. If you go to their website's "for attorneys" page you can see it was pretty carefully designed. First, the client enters all their identifying information so the attorney can run a conflict check before seeing the question. Then, an engagement letter is supplied to the client which clearly states that the attorney/client relationship ends at the end of the chat. Only if the lawyer verifies that there is no conflict and the client agrees to the engagement terms is the question presented to the lawyer.

Unfortunately, you can't be really sure the client gave not just consent but INFORMED consent to the engagement letter, since the lawyer has no opportunity to explain it. In all likelihood the clients will click "agree" without even reading it, as they have grown accustomed to doing with software terms of service and the like.

And perhaps more importantly, the quality of the advice you get from lawyers answering questions for $20 a pop may be very questionable. The very example they use on the website even gives bad advice.

In the example, the client asks whether the cannabis plants in his basement could present a problem for child custody. The lawyer asks only two questions: How old is the client and how many plants he has. Then, since the hypothetical client says he is over 21 and has fewer than the maximum number of plants allowed under Oregon law, the lawyer concludes that since the client is not committing a crime under applicable state law, then his cannabis use/possession should be irrelevant to any child custody determination and client has nothing to worry about.

This of course is clearly wrong. The client didn't ask whether he was committing a crime, he asked whether his conduct was adversely relevant to a child best interests determination. So even if the criminal advice is correct, well, alcohol is legal too, but few judges will award custody to a raging alcoholic. Exes in this position always allege impairment or other circumstances surrounding the cannabis use/possession, and judges have plenty of discretion under a standard as deliberately vague as "child best interests," particularly in a courtroom where the rules of evidence may be relaxed or inapplicable and where the standard of proof is a civil one. Where is the line between responsible recreational marijuana use and abuse, for example? Well we don't have hundreds of years of cultural acceptance of marijuana, like we have with booze normalizing a beer or two with dinner but frowning on a whiskey at 8:00AM. So the line is going to be wherever the judge thinks it is. Is there even any such thing as a non-impairing level of marijuana use when a kid is in your care? Huge uncertainty for both the law and science, as MJ lacks the straight-line correlation between amount consumed and level of impairment that alcohol has.

In a real life example like this, the ex will almost certainly allege that he is abusing this otherwise-legal drug. Whether the judge believes that or not is largely going to turn on the judge's personal beliefs about marijuana, making it a crapshoot and a risk not worth taking when your kid is at stake. I would've probably told him to ditch the plants and hire a lawyer for real: Just because he won't get arrested doesn't mean he might not lose his kid. Heck, maybe there even could be criminal implications if the ex calls CPS and they find him stoned with the kid nearby; that could lead to removal as well as potentially a criminal neglect charge.

It's a good example of how the text format lends itself to oversimplified, brief answers. The right answer is often nuanced and may exceed the attention span of the sorts of people who want to get their legal questions answered in this fashion. In fact, there are lots of articles about custody implications like this online so the client in the example used would have actually gotten a better answer from google.

A better model than this would be more like telemedicine than texting. Like those doctor apps, there really should be at least a face-to-face meeting with the client so that a real conversation takes place, as well as a facility for easy exchange of documents.

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whiteguyinchina (Jul 12, 2018 - 7:12 am)

like most ppl, i stopped reading at middle of paragraph two.

but yea man. whatever. its twenty bucks. where do i click?

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