Via this post from Allison Shields as LegalEase is a link to this ABA e-report article (1/20/06) on the Ohio Bar’s disiplinary board’s recent ruling that ocupons for free or discounted legal services violate the Ohio Code. The board found that coupons characterize a lawyer’s legal services as “discount” and thus, run afoul of commentary to the Ohio rules that provides:
“Characterization of rates or fees chargeable by the lawyer or law firm such as ‘cut-rate,’ ‘lowest,’ ‘giveaway,’ ‘below cost,’ ‘discount,’ or ‘special’ is misleading.”
As with all bar regulation, the rules sound benign enough in practice – protecting consumers from deceptive practices and preventing lawyers from acting like undignified hucksters. Here’s the reality, though. Services like We the People aren’t subject to bar rules – and thus, they’re able to proclaim, as a tag line, that they offer “Low cost accurate document preparation.” Can an Ohio lawyer do the same? As I read the commentary, I’d argue yes, but it’s a close call since both “low cost” and “accurate” are charaterizations of service. And for that reason, the Ohio Bar’s rules have a chilling effect on lawyers who want to advertise their service in a way that allows them to compete with We the People.
Many bars have tried going after companies like We the People but the problem remains, that it’s a service that fills a void for consumers who don’t want to handle a case pro se and need affordable service. Given that a need for affordable, basic service remains unmet, don’t we want to do all we can to ensure that this service is provided by attorneys? Overbearing and restrictive regulations like those of the Ohio Bar sure don’t make that easy.