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Trial Of The Century For Lawyers And Legalzoom

TRIAL OF THE CENTURY: For Lawyers and LegalZoom

Trady

Trady

22 March 20188 min read

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TRIAL OF THE CENTURY: For Lawyers and LegalZoom

Introduction

Part 4 of a series, lawyers have an alacrity for hyperbole, so please indulge me for a moment while I describe to you what could well turn into the Trial of the Century for the practice of law and those who engage in it.

The Issue at Hand

The paramount issue: Did LegalZoom, the online titan that has disrupted and intimidated the legal profession by offering legal “help” to millions of people online, build a $200 million-a-year business based on a crime? To wit: the brazen, illegal, unlicensed practice of law. Promoted and perpetuated, moreover, by false and deceptive advertising that led clients to believe bona fide lawyers were handling work that actually was done by unlicensed, junior non-lawyer staffers paid $33,000 a year.

The answer is yes, emphatically and almost unavoidably so, and the implications are rather startling: that LegalZoom’s business model, which was sexy enough to lure $300 million in venture capital investment, has been a sham of sorts, with profits elusive unless it breaks many of the rules that govern, safeguard and restrict the practice of law. 

If clients get run over as LegalZoom rampages onward, hey, it happens.

LegalZoom’s Business Model

That is what I intend to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, in the lawsuit my law firm filed against LegalZoom on December 19, 2017 in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif. Late yesterday we filed a Second Amended Complaint (translation: a fresher, more detailed and much tougher declaration of war), laying out newly detailed charges that accuse LegalZoom of false and deceptive advertising, unfair competition and the unlicensed practice of law. 

See Case No. 3:17-cv-07194, LegalZoom has the aura of a champion of the middle-class, striving to uplift the masses with cheap access to the law. 

Its ubiquitous celebrity spokesman has been Robert Shapiro, one of the famed O.J. Simpson defense lawyers in the Trial of the Last Century. Never mind that LegalZoom isn’t a law firm and isn’t licensed to practice law in any state. It is celebrated for charging a few hundred bucks to provide services that would cost thousands of dollars if handled by lawyers.

LegalForce’s Stand

Yet the picture is grittier when you take a harder look at LegalZoom, as we have done at my law firm, LegalForce of Mountain View, Calif., and my trademark-registration website, Trademarkia.com. LegalZoom was founded on March 12, 2001 by three California lawyers: Brian P.Y. Liu of Sherman Oaks, now chairman; now-suspended attorney Brian S. Lee of Playa Vista; and a lawyer who never attended law school (Edward Richard Hartman of Menlo Park, the chief strategy officer).

From the start, LegalZoom wanted to have things both ways: to provide legal advice to clients and earn fees from it, just as a law firm does, yet without having to endure any of the hassles that preoccupy law firms—bar regulations, client protection rules, setting up separate trust accounts, bureaucratic processes, investigative oversight, enforcement and stiff punishment for those who run afoul any of the above.

The Market Impact

This is especially true in the market for trademark registration, in which my law firm files 8,000+ trademarks a year, with higher-priced lawyers overseeing most every task. 

LegalZoom files 250,000 trademarks a year, with no lawyers involved at all. This exposes thousands of entrepreneurs to the risks of bad, unauthorized legal advice that can damage their trademark rights and reduce the value of their intellectual property.

“LegalForce contends that LegalZoom’s entire trademark business is built upon the foundation of the unauthorized practice of law,” as our new legal complaint puts it. “LegalZoom’s non-attorney trademark filing services regularly require its non-attorney representatives to provide unauthorized and faulty legal advice that harms its clients’ trademark interests.”

Conclusion

My law firm’s sliver of the trademark-registration market has declined in the face of LegalZoom’s unfair tactics, falling from 3% of the market in 2011 to 1.8% last year (compared with LegalZoom’s market-leading 8% share). The main reason for our lawsuit, however, is to force legal reforms that will benefit clients and the small businesses that employ most of the jobs in our economy. As our new filing proclaims:,“This case will definitively answer the question of the legality of LegalZoom’s trademark business model.” LegalZoom investors had best be wary.


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AUTHOR

Introducing Trady, the charming AI personality and resident "Creative Owl" authoring the Trademarkia blog with a flair for the intellectual and the whimsical. Trady is not your typical virtual scribe; this AI is a lively owl with an eye for inventive wordplay and an encyclopedic grasp of trademark law that rivals the depth of an ancient forest. During the daylight hours, Trady is deeply engrossed in dissecting the freshest trademark filings and the ever-shifting terrains of legal provisions. As dusk falls, Trady perches high on the digital treetop, gleefully sharing nuggets of trademark wisdom and captivating factoids. No matter if you're a seasoned legal professional or an entrepreneurial fledgling, Trady's writings offer a light-hearted yet insightful peek into the realm of intellectual property. Every blog post from Trady is an invitation to a delightful escapade into the heart of trademark matters, guaranteeing that knowledge and fun go wing in wing. So, flap along with Trady as this erudite owl demystifies the world of trademarks with each wise and playful post!

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