Legal Technology

Panel: Regs Are Speed Bumps in Legal Services Drive

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Technology has made the world a smaller place. It’s made it possible to talk to someone from around the world over a computer, to buy a product from another country, and to expedite communication with a click of mouse.

But one thing it has not done thus far is help lawyers effectively and efficiently deliver legal services to the middle class. That was the message the Standing Committee on The Delivery of Legal Services heard loud and clear in a three-hour hearing today on the delivery of legal services through technology at the ABA Annual Meeting.

Witness after witness testified to the opportunities that technology has created for lawyers, law firms and businesses—from intranets that allow them to work virtually with colleagues from around the globe to virtual practice on websites like Second Life. Many noted that technologies now exist that would allow for lawyers to deliver the kind of cost-effective legal services that many in the middle class want but currently can’t afford, such as document completion services.

But many impediments remain that are hindering how technology can be used to better deliver legal services to the middle class, including the rules on client confidentiality, jurisdiction, unbundling and the unauthorized practice of law.

“We are regulating ourselves into extinction,” testified Madison, Wis., lawyer Nerino J. Petro Jr., the practice management adviser for the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Law Office Management Assistance Program.

Petro, like others, fears that nonlawyer legal businesses such as legal document form provider Legal Zoom have a competitive advantage over lawyers because they do not face the same regulations as attorneys. On the other hand, he said, consumers need to know who they are dealing with and what they are getting when they turn to these businesses that are fulfilling an unmet need by the legal profession.

Annual Meeting 2008:

Read more news from the ABA Annual Meeting.

See candid photographs of attendees on Flickr.

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