private law practices and corporate
law departments, and virtual law
An increasingly popular, and controversial, category of service providers generates customer-specific
documents over the Internet, using interactive software, without purporting
to be engaged in the practice of law,
˲ Commercial services;e
˲ Nonprofit sites;f
˲Governmental and court sites
(such as self-help court resources);g
˲ Free services by law firms.h
Most of these services use special-
ized document-assembly software
long used by lawyers themselves; for an
overview of document assembly and
other specialized technologies used by
lawyers, see Lauritsen. 6 That technolo-
gy enables someone to program “what
words go where” under various sets of
answers, gathered in interactive ques-
tionnaires that change as users work
through them, with context-specific
guidance. Applications can embody
rule sets of arbitrary size and complex-
ity and generate highly tailored and
precisely styled documents.
In addition to commercial, gov-
ernmental, and nonprofit initiatives,
courses are offered at a growing num-
ber of law schools, some under an
“Apps for Justice” rubric, in which
e See http://www.legalzoom.com, http://www.
forms.com, and http://whichdraft.com
f I-CAN! was created by the Legal Aid Society
of Orange County, CA; its E-FILE application,
a free Web-based tax-assistance program
for low-income workers, has returned more
than $233 million to U.S. taxpayers (https://
LawHelp Interactive, a service of Pro Bono
Net, has delivered more than one million cus-
tomized documents for free (https://lawhelp-
interactive.org/ and http://collegeoflpm.
innovaction-award-winners/); its contributors
and operators arguably risk civil and criminal
liability in certain U.S. states under certain
interpretations of their rules concerning the
unauthorized practice of law.
g See, for example, http://www.courts.ca.gov/
thelp, and http://www.nycourts.gov/courthelp
h See, for example, http://www.goodwinfounder-
sworkbench.com, https://tsc.orrick.com, http://
www.startuppercolator.com, and http://www.wsgr.
students build useful software appli-
cations as part of their education, re-
sults of which can be made available
to the public.i
power tools to licensed craftsmen?
A. Law is special. We need lawyers,
and it’s only fair that in exchange for
the years of education they are required to have, and the ethical rules
they are required to follow, they get exclusive rights to perform certain kinds
B. Come on. We have a huge population unable to afford legal help. Even
unemployed lawyers are unwilling to
work at rates low enough, and legal
aid is grossly underfunded throughout the U.S.
A. That does not mean vulnerable
people should be victimized by companies out to make a quick buck or
even by well meaning do-gooders.
Software rarely does justice to people’s legal needs.
B. Why should consumers incur
the inconvenience and expense of hiring a lawyer to create documents that
someone else is willing to do inexpensively or free? When they are informed
of risks, and prepared to accept them?
We are talking willing consumers here.
This sounds like the nanny state.
A. We regulate many consumer
B. It seems to me that writing software is like writing a book, an expressive act that should be protected as
A. Do not try to hide behind the
First Amendment. These are not “
publications” but services, with people behind them.
B. There are people behind books, too.
A. Yeah, but books don’t do anything.
B. Well, they do inform people, and
they can be written to give very specific
advice for very specific circumstances.
A. That doesn’t mean software deserves the same protection as written
B. Antipathy to these kinds of applications comes mostly from biased and
techno-illiterate policymakers. Many
lawyers, judges, legislators, and regulators have little understanding of the
nature of computer code. And professionals naturally resist demystification
of their expertise.
A. Stuff like this could destroy the
legal profession. Is that what you want?
B. Hey, some of my best friends are
lawyers. Lawyers just need to learn to
compete on the merits. If machines