A court has ruled that an online legal service engaged in the unauthorized practice of law (UPL). 

A recent 9th Circuit case, In re Reynoso (2/27/07), holds that bankruptcy advice provided by an expert system “was the conduct of a non-attorney” and therefore “constituted the unauthorized practice of law.” When I first heard about this from a friend and then read Software Cited for Unauthorized Law Practice at Inside Opinions, I feared the worst.

Lest someone accuse me of UPL… what I write here is not a legal opinion. I think this case is easily limited by its “bad” facts: a non-lawyer created the system, arguably false advertising, and questionable software-generated statements placed on a bankruptcy filing. This case may even offer protection from UPL charges for a well-vetted system, prepared by a licensed attorney, and fairly advertised.

In any event, this business to consumer (B2C) UPL case is easily distinguished from a business to business (B2B) situation. My articles about online legal services suggest that law firms or law departments that use expert systems to deliver advice to existing clients are not at risk for UPL.

Almost a decade after Linklaters first introduced Blue Flag, one of the earliest online legal services, we can wonder why there are not more B2B expert legal systems. Though UPL may be a lingering concern, I suspect it is minor compared to business model barriers.

On a related note, for a very useful legal ethics resource generally, see legalethics.com (the UPL section is here). This site, originated and still co-written by Peter Krakaur, has just been re-launched as a blog.