The emergence of interactive software and online services for self-help legal document preparation has triggered new efforts by the organized bar and state officials to suppress what is perceived as the unauthorized practice of law. While couched in terms of consumer protection, and at least partly motivated by such concerns, these efforts are regarded by some as blatant turf management by a profession anxious to avoid further erosion of its monopoly over legal advice and representation. Regulatory agencies around the country are wrestling with how best to define the practice of law so as to limit what is perceived as predatory behavior by commercially-driven non-lawyer actors, while not unduly restricting public-spirited initiatives by courts and nonprofits to expand access to justice through online tools that help self-represented litigants understand and assert their rights. One question is whether restricting the creation and distribution of software is within the legitimate scope of state action. No one would contend nowadays that the state could suppress books, pamphlets, or speeches on how the legal system works and what forms one needs to interact with it would pass constitutional muster. Is there a right of ‘programmatic expression’ under the First Amendment? This session reviewed the state of the debate, and practical strategies that programs should consider in light of its evolution.
Presenters: Richard Granat, DirectLaw, Inc.; Marc Lauritsen, Capstone Practice Systems