California Bar Journal
OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF THE STATE BAR OF CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 2000
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California Bar Journal

The State Bar of California


REGULARS

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Front Page - February 2000
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News Briefs
Appeal court denies bar's petition to reverse Brosterhous
Fee bill introduced
Bar fee arb program gears up
David Bryson, Loren Miller recipient, dies at 58
Board to name one to Judicial Council
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You Need to Know
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Opinion
From the President - For our system to work, we need to be involved
Let's let public lawyers take a seat at the table
The illusion of a cosmetic fix
Letters to the Editor
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MCLE Self-Study
The Supreme Court and the ADA
Self-Assessment Test
MCLE Calendar of Events
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Appointments
Access commission seeks members for 2 positions
Apply to serve on a bar committee
Bar seeks applicants for ABA delegates
Judge evaluation positions open
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Discipline
Ethics Byte - 'Rampant' conflicts in a new economy
Attorney suspected of soliciting murder of bar prosecutor
Attorney Discipline
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Legal Tech - If the hype is right, ASPs are H-O-T
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Public Comment
Online advice
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Continued from Page 1
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they are licensed. To get around this, the legal chat companies are training their lawyers to keep their answers general—pointing people to resources and explaining the legal process, for example.

“I think it will be very difficult for them to stay on the no-legal-advice side of the line and give useful information,” said Alan B. Morrison, director of the Public Citizen Litigation Group.

Morrison supports the idea of lawyers online but questions the usefulness of the information they can dispense. “I would imagine some of the bar associations are going to get pretty aggressive about monitoring this,” he added.

William E. Hornsby, staff counsel of the American Bar Association’s legal services division, said the Internet has the potential to improve public access to justice, “but the downside is quality control.” He questioned whether the disclaimers posted online by the free legal advice sites would be sufficient to avoid establishing an attorney-client relationship.

USLaw.com, which went online a few weeks ago from Silver Spring, Md., said the lawyers in its directory are screened by LawCorps Devel-opment Co., the Washington-based temporary legal staffing firm that is providing the lawyers. USLaw.com has 13 full-time employees in addition to six lawyers doing chats for up to 13 hours a day. USLaw.com has backing from some of the same investors behind AmericasDoctors.com, which has doctors answering questions online.

USLaw planned to move to around-the-clock chat in January and have 100 lawyers online by summer, Simon said.

The Web site also offers a free law library and interactive law forms that ask people questions and create customized documents such as wills. The company is compiling a legal directory that will offer free basic listings to lawyers and sell one premium listing in each legal specialty for a geographic area.

FreeAdvice.com, by contrast, charges lawyers $195 a year for basic listings. It is going slower with free chat. Only two lawyers were answering questions during the 42 hours it was live recently, because it is trying to monitor the quality of the advice, said chief executive Gerry Goldsholle.

James L. Thompson, president of the Maryland State Bar Association, was skeptical that lawyers can give meaningful guidance online without straying into the unauthorized practice of law: “It doesn’t pass the laugh test.”

But Thompson also said the legal community faces much larger issues as the Internet breaks through so many boundaries on which many regulations are based. “I’m convinced the legal profession needs to readdress its position on the Internet,” he said.

Stephen Gillers, professor of legal ethics at New York University’s School of Law, said he, too, considers it “not realistic at all” that lawyers chatting online can hold back from crossing into the unauthorized practice of law. Yet he does believe legal information is a valuable commodity that will find its way into real-time transmission online.

“I think it is going to happen big-time,” Gillers said. “If it’s done right and is respectful of legal ethics and professional rules, it could be a real service.”

Copyright by The Washington Post. Reprinted with permisssion.