St. Mary's Law Journal


Clients experience the speed at which the world changes, both technologically and socially. They expect lawyers to keep pace. The technology which permits lawyers to deliver legal services faster also chains lawyers to their electronic devices. This technology has also led to a growing market of those who promise to do the same work faster, better, and cheaper. Such developments will ultimately affect how lawyers view professional malpractice or the way the industry understands “competence and diligence normally exercised by lawyers.” The malpractice question becomes: to what standard of care and competence should such “amateur” lawyers be held? The legal industry used to believe the prohibitions on the unauthorized practice of law meant non-lawyers could never provide any services which were legal and legal-adjacent. Yet, such cases do arise, and the numbers are likely to increase with time. The most obvious answer is “act like a lawyer, be judged like a lawyer.” Good arguments exist for this answer. First, prohibitions against the unauthorized practice of law exist to protect the public against unqualified practitioners. Second, enforcement of a standard of lawyer-quality should tend to deter non-lawyers from attempting representation in the first place. However reasonable this heightened standard may seem—it may not be the correct one. There is little reason to believe non-lawyers will not do a good job of meeting the needs of most clients. If the standard is set too high the likely result will not be lawyers stepping in to fill the void, but a large portion of the community going unserved. Non-lawyers should be required to identify themselves as such, and their clients should hold them to a standard similar to a paralegal or another non-lawyer.


St. Mary's University School of Law