The Missouri suit against LegalZoom

Cite this Article
Larry Ribstein, The Missouri suit against LegalZoom, Truth on the Market (July 27, 2011),

Apropos of my recent discussions (e.g. here) of litigation against LegalZoom (and note my potential interest in this subject), the Law Blog reports on the Missouri class against LegalZoom alleging that LegalZoom is illegally practicing law in Missouri.  The judge denied a motion for summary judgment and the case is going to trial August 22.

The LawBlog quotes LZ’s GC:

“If the plaintiffs are successful, we believe it is going to become a lot more expensive for small businesses and individuals to obtain basic legal forms.  Missouri would become the only state in the nation to take away a consumer’s right to access online legal document software.”

 David Butsch, lawyer for the plaintiff class, told the Law Blog that unbeknownst to consumers

“[t]here are consequences of signing a will . . .and those consequences can be great and they can’t be properly communicated by a company over the internet.”

Asked about concerns that legal services cost too much and the claim that access to online legal documents is better than forcing people go without any advice at all, Butsch responded

that there is now a glut of legal talent in the market, with many law graduates unable to find full-time employment. That fact, he said, has made customized legal help from practicing lawyers increasingly affordable. “I know quite a few lawyers who offer a quality legal service at very good rates,” he said

I have a few more questions for Mr. Butsch:

  • Exactly who are these good lawyers he’s referring to, or at least where can Missouri consumers find them? How do consumers know they’re good apart from Mr. Butsch’s say-so?
  • Even if they charge “very good rates” by current standards, wouldn’t competition lower these fees?
  • Is he confident that lawyers are doing a better job than the internet of communicating the consequences of signing a will?
  • If a company like LegalZoom used the internet to communicate these risks, would he promise not to sue them for unauthorized practice of law?

If Butsch wins his suit I’m sure that Missouri lawyers will be happy.  But could the same be said for consumers, the purported beneficiaries of his suit?