attention of the outside business world.
Significant inroads have been made by
online companies to enter the markets
once dominated by lawyers. As a result,
the market environment is shifting
without our control.
According to Tech Cocktail, a media
company covering startups, in 2012
venture capitalists invested a modest
$66 million in legal service startups (not
law firms, just law). In 2013, the level of
investment skyrocketed to $458 million.
The current legal services market
now offers many necessary ingredients
to continue attracting outside companies and investors. There is 1) a vast
untapped legal services market that
2) may be as large as 85 percent of our
low-income and moderate means (
mid-dle-income) citizens which 3) may be
worth billions of dollars nationally, and
4) is not being serviced by lawyers. As
a result, there is very little competition
for market dollars right now. These fac-
tors and others have led to increased in-
vestment from non-traditional sources
and increased market penetration by
legal service companies.
However, legal regulation like UPL remains a limiting barrier and a disincentive to innovation and investment from
those outside the legal field. Remove this
barrier and we open the floodgates to innovation, investment, and unprecedented growth in the legal industry.
There are those like myself who believe that, with increased investment,
improved technology, greater online
access and support, legal startup
growth, new business structures, and
new legal partnerships, the cost of delivering legal services would make legal services available to those unable to
afford them previously. In other words,
the opportunity for access to justice for
everyone could be a reality.
We as a profession retain the power
to self-regulate and that is a big deal.
The power to enforce the unauthorized
practice of law and to require a license
to practice law provides us opportunities and risks.
If we continue to use our power to remain purely protectionist, then we cannot expect to hold our market. Indeed,
this path is showing signs of failure
now against online legal services.
If we modify our regulation and
choose our partners and investors, then
we can expand our profession, grow our
market, and provide greater access to
justice to the poor and middle class
than we ever have before.
So, spend another million dollars
attempting to enforce UPL regulations
or spend our collateral leveraging the
evolution of the legal profession to unprecedented growth and secure meaningful access for our citizens? It’s worth
thinking about. NWL
WSBA President Patrick A. Palace
practices in Tacoma. He can be reached
at firstname.lastname@example.org or 253-627-
3883. Follow him on Twitter: @palacelaw.
1. Medlock v. LegalZoom.com, No. 2012-
208067 (S.C. Sup. Ct. Oct. 25, 2013) (citing
State v. Despain, 319 S.C. 317 (1995)).