Does LegalZoom Have First Amendment Rights? Some Thoughts About Freedom of Speech and the Unauthorized Practice of Law
Catherine J. Lanctot
Villanova University School of Law
May 1, 2011
Temple Political & Civil Rights Law Review, Forthcoming
Villanova Law/Public Policy Research Paper No. 2011-07
At a time of economic dislocation in the legal profession, it is likely that bar regulators will turn their attention to pursuing lay entities that appear to be engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. One prominent target of these efforts is LegalZoom, an online document preparer that has come under increasing pressure from the organized bar for its marketing and sale of basic legal documents. As regulatory pressure against LegalZoom and similar companies continues to mount, it is worth considering whether there may be unanticipated consequences from pursuing these unauthorized practice claims. In several well-known instances, lay people have successfully defended against such claims by asserting that the law-related activities they wanted to pursue were protected by the First Amendment.
The article first sketches some potential problems with the reflexive assumption that LegalZoom and its fellow travelers are engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. Even assuming that the practice of preparing routine legal documents for consumers runs afoul of many unauthorized practice statutes, however, there remains an open question of whether these statutes may themselves interfere with First Amendment guarantees. In particular, to the extent that these statutes broadly sweep vast amounts of law-related speech within their scope, they may infringe on free speech rights. The article sets forth some of the possible First Amendment arguments available to document preparers, without extensive elaboration, to call attention to the possibility that they may be raised in defense to an unauthorized practice prosecution. It concludes with a caution about aggressive pursuit of these online document preparers without careful consideration of the possible risks involved. A successful First Amendment challenge to an unauthorized practice statute could have repercussions far beyond the world of LegalZoom.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 42
Keywords: LegalZoom, Unauthorized Practice, First Amendment, Legal Document, Online, Scrivener, Model Rules, ABA, Legal Advice, Commercial Speech
Date posted: June 30, 2011