At the ABA Techshow 2011, lawyers from across the country came together to discuss, among other things, the future of law practice as related to technology. Please go over to the ABA Journal to read a full article on the discussion. One area I wish to highlight, however, is Carolyn Elefant's discussion of websites such as lawpivot, which allow a person with a legal question to request information from attorneys over the internet.
The running theme under the umbrella of law and technology is that no one is really sure what rules of ethics apply over the internet. Lawpivot is just one more sight that opens up a large can of worms of questions: Is a lawyer client relationship created with each lawyer response? Are conflicts checks being run before the attorney opens the email? The "=How it works" section of the site does not contain disclaimers regarding lawyer-client relationships.
Putting aside the issues of relationship forming and client confidences, isn't crowdsourcing a legal question a very very bad pond to dip our feet in? Confession: I am currently a 3L about to graduate from law school, so my knowledge of the practice of law is limited to my classroom internship/externship/clerking experience. However, I can say with certainty that the practice of law is not an exact science. Isn't this technology forcing the (prospective?) client to decide what attorney he or she believes has the "right" answer? Therefore, isn't it the attorney's best interest to search for the answer that will undoubtedly win the client the most money? Isn't this perpetuating a more litigious society, rather than one that wishes to only bring suit when it is prudent to do so?
Just so we are keeping track, we now have potential violations of the following Model Rules:
1.6 (client confidences), 1.7 (Conflicts of interest: current clients), 1.9 (Conflicts of interest: Former clients), 3.1 (Meritorious Claims and Contentions)
It is my opinion that this is one example of how technology is hurting, rather than helping, the practice of law. (This leads me to a famous quote in Back to the Future, Part II: "The justice system works swiftly in the future now that they've abolished all lawyers." What is the purpose of going to law school for 3 years, taking and passing the bar exam, being sworn in, and paying bar dues only to be a 'crowdsourcing' lawyer? Why even bother with licensing when you can crowdsource?)