In a couple of recent blog posts I’ve talked about regulatory hacks and limitations on the democratization of legal expertise.
In this post I’ll quickly cover one limitation on the democratization of legal expertise and then a clever way that LAWCLERK, in specific, has implemented a regulatory hack to overcome this particular limitation.
Jurisdictional licensing is a drag on the democratization of legal expertise. While the internet can allow a Washington state lawyer to access the expertise of a New York licensed lawyer, the Washington lawyer can’t have a New York lawyer render legal advice directly to their Washington state-based client unless the New York lawyer is also licensed in Washington state.
There are definitely some positive changes in the jurisdictional licensing arena. For one, the majority of US states now use the UBE. This means that while all states still license attorneys independently, most now use the same test to assess fitness and competence to practice law. It also means that lawyers’ scores on the UBE can transfer between states. Over the last few decades we have also seen a slow but increasing willingness from certain states to relax the requirements for out-of-state lawyers to get licensed in those states particularly if similarly minimized hurdles are granted reciprocally.
But the overall state-by-state restrictions remain for online legal marketplaces. This means that online consumer legal marketplaces are usually nationwide in scale, in order to leverage the internet’s power, but operate on a state-by-state basis in order to comply with the state by state licensing in the United States.
The same is largely true for most lawyer to lawyer online legal marketplaces: while, as noted above, Washington lawyers can access the expertise of New York attorneys via the internet they have been limited in how they bring the expertise of the New York attorneys to bear for their Washington clients.
LAWCLERK has built an innovative work around for this problem – a bit of a “regulatory hack” – in their lawyer to lawyer online legal marketplace. All freelance lawyers hired on LAWCLERK are hired as paraprofessionals and, as part of the LAWCLERK terms of service, are prohibited from engaging in the practice of law when doing any work for attorneys that have hired them via LAWCLERK. What’s more, the hiring attorneys on LAWCLERK assume full responsibility for the freelance attorneys’ work and are prohibited from asking freelance attorneys to engage in the practice of law. This structure ensures that lawyers hiring freelance attorneys on LAWCLERK have the greatest possible access to expensive expertise while minimizing the jurisdictional licensing risks associated with accessing that expertise.
It seems crazy that, in a world where technology is increasingly changing the nature of boundaries, the democratization of legal expertise must still stop at a given border. While there are some small green shoots of regulatory change in legal it’s also positive to see regulatory hacks like the one that LAWCLERK has implemented that continue to push democratization of legal information in spite of the current regulations.