Updated to add the rebuttal by Pennsylvania Bar President William Pugh and the final counter by Mark Cohen. The American Bar Association’s aborted pilot project with Rocket Lawyer may have more impact with its failure than perhaps it could have if it had continued. The high drama of the sudden closure of “ABA Law Connect” has pulled back curtains at some of the of ABA’s systemic problems with regards to non-traditional law practice.
Mark Cohen, founder and CEO of Legalmosaic, wrote a nuanced essay today, “Perspective: The Opposition to ABA Law Connect Was About Lawyer Protectionism, Not Public Good,” at Bloomberg BNA Big Law Business, discussing the demise of the ABA-Rocket Lawyer program, which involved three bars: California, Illinois and Pennsylvania.
“Those states were picked for their geographic diversity and Rocket Lawyer’s significant presence there,” explains Cohen. “ABA lawyers in each state, using Rocket Lawyer’s technology platform, answered one or two written questions for the price of a Domino’s medium pizza,” said Cohen, who also is an Adjunct Professor at the Georgetown University Law Center.
Cohen and many others acknowledge that the collapse of the pilot program casts a huge light on the differences between state bars with voluntary members versus the mandatory bars such as the State Bar of California. In a nutshell, the voluntary bars were worried that they might lose clients.
Pennsylvania State Bar President William Pugh was quoted at the ABA’s mid-year meeting, saying that his bar’s “leadership wants to withdraw from the ABA if we don’t have this program deep-sixed,” (The American Lawyer).
“Pugh’s desire that the ABA exist exclusively to serve ‘bread and butter mainstream lawyers’ conflicts with the plain language of the ABA’s mission statement,” writes Cohen. “And that begs the question: ‘Why did the ABA capitulate—hiding behind the ‘it was just a pilot project’ explanation’ and end such a promising program?” Answer: to prevent a revolt by state bars.”
Cohen argues that “pulling the plug hurts everyone. The public already has a dim view of lawyers. And this runs the gamut from those denied access to justice to corporate boardrooms. Sure, lawyers themselves are a big reason,” said Cohen. “But so too is the antiquated, monolithic structure from which they deliver their services. ABA Law Connect provided an alternative structure, one that improved efficiency and reduced cost. Oh, and it encouraged millions of new potential clients into the marketplace.”
Do read Cohen’s eloquent essay. And let’s hope that the abrupt shutdown ends up being a blessing in disquise. Cohen’s article raises nuanced insights, and focuses on issues that our legal community simply must fix. Shining bright lights on these very vexing problems can help all of us fix it. And these are exactly the type of problems that legal technology can help ameliorate.
As Rocket Lawyer CEO Charley Moore said in my BBBLB interview: “Still, it’s inspiring that the ABA and California Bar Association leadership share our paramount commitment to bring the fundamental right of legal representation to everyone, regardless of their economic means.
> Cohen’s Bloomberg Big Law Business article triggered a rebuttal from William Pugh, President of the Pennsylvania Bar Association on Monday, March 28.
> Which triggered a final words today (March 30) from Cohen today.
This is such an important issue, with tremendous ramifications. IMHO, technology will ultimately be a huge positive factor in addressing the overwhelming lack of affordable legal services in the United States and beyond.
• “ABA, Rocket Lawyer,” Monica Bay
• The American Lawyer, Susan Beck:
• “ABA Abandons Rocket Lawyer Venture Amid Attorney Backlash.“
• “At ABA Meeting, Bar Groups See Threat from Nonlawyers.”
• “Divided ABA Adopts Resolution on Nonlawyer Legal Services.”
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Monica Bay is a Fellow at CodeX and a freelance journalist for Bloomberg BNA Big Law Business, a columnist at Above The Law and co-host of Law Technology Now (Legal Talk Network. She is a member of the California bar and the ABA. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @MonicaBay