The Washington Supreme Court, which regulates the practice of law, is considering adopting new rules for online legal services. The regulations would apply to websites that offer everything from downloadable forms to advice on drawing up a will.
The public has until Aug. 30 to comment on the proposal.
Attorney Douglas Walsh sits on Washington's Practice of Law Board and helped write the proposed regulations. This is being considered now, he says, because people increasingly are looking online for legal help and businesses are looking to expand what they offer.
"The Consumer Protection Act currently covers them, but we're going to try and provide fence posts, or guides, so they can enter the market space without violating the rules about the unauthorized practice of law," Walsh said.
The rules would add language to a section of Washington Supreme Court's General Rule 24, which defines the practice of law in Washington state. The changes would require companies to register with the Washington State Bar Association, and all their blank legal forms and online legal language would require review by a state-licensed attorney, among other requirements. And, Walsh said, it would require more transparency on the part of the companies.
"We don't want consumers to be victimized based on people who are incompetent or who have conflicts of interest," Walsh said, such as providing shoddy products or services at an unreasonable price.
Walsh says some of the comments received from online service companies have been negative, in opposition to the idea of new rules. Representatives of some companies say the proposed changes amount to over-regulation and would chill innovation.
Recently, the Washington Supreme Court extended the public comment period for the proposed rule changes, to Aug. 30. People may submit comments, limited to 1,500 words, to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail:
Clerk of the Supreme Court
P.O. Box 40929
Olympia, WA 98504