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LegalZoom general counsel speaks at U of A Law School

Legal News Reporter

Published: October 23, 2015

LegalZoom already has the distinction of being the first American company approved to operate as an alternative business structure in the United Kingdom.

Now, leaders of the online legal technology company are hoping to revolutionize the way law firms in the United States do business.

“We need a truly new model to deliver legal services with lawyers supported by branding, marketing and technology,” Chas Rampenthal, LegalZoom’s general counsel, said in a recent telephone interview. “We need to combine the technology of law with the people of law.”

Rampenthal was the guest speaker Oct. 9 at The University of Akron School of Law as part of the school’s “Access to Justice” lecture series. He discussed completely changing the business model of law firms to deliver true legal counsel (not just Internet forms) to individuals and small businesses.

Rampenthal said American Bar Association President William Hubbard was his inspiration for trying to find a way to help those who are underrepresented in court.

“Hubbard was quoted as saying the legal profession `must develop a new model to meet the needs of the underserved,’ “ said Rampenthal. “I want to take up the gauntlet thrown down by President Hubbard and imagine a law firm that is designed to meet this need – what should it look like, what can it do and how will it operate? What will the future of law need to look like if it wants to serve these forgotten consumers?”

Rampenthal noted that up to 99 percent of people in child custody and paternity issues don’t have a lawyer. In addition, 98 percent of renters aren’t represented in evictions, yet 60 percent of landlords are.

“It’s become a bit of an epidemic,” he said.

Many of those without an attorney are above the federal poverty level but don’t qualify for Legal Aid services.

“Some people above the poverty level can’t afford even a junior-level attorney,” Rampenthal added. “But average people still have legal needs. It’s a fundamental right. “

The LegalZoom counsel said lawyers need to go beyond simply offering the occasional pro bono service. And pro se representation isn’t the answer, either.

“Right now, the law just has – you’re either on your own or you do it my way,” he said. “We need to offer different price points and different services. Different solutions for you and your budget. It’s possible to have a system that perfectly balances ethics with the need for professionalism. Professionalism can be maintained, but we need to make sure our professionalism is relaxed. But ads still need to be correct and not misleading.”

Rampenthal added that mediation and arbitration are more important than ever.

“The courtroom will be a better place without slugging it out in court,” he said.

Rampenthal said he envisions a kind of “legal triage” model of law similar to how the medical profession now operates.

For instance, depending on the health issue, a patient has a choice of going to the emergency room, the urgent care clinic or waiting to make an appointment with a doctor during regular office hours.

In a typical medical appointment, a patient may see the physician for just 8 ½ minutes out of the total 68 minutes he or she is in the office, said Rampenthal.

Other medical professionals such as an intake specialist, lab technician, radiologist, nurse or physician’s assistant all help provide health-related services before the doctor is actually seen. Yet it is a very efficient and safe way of operating, said Rampenthal.

“You never see a nurse say, `You really need heart surgery, but I’ll just take care of it myself,’ “ he added. “The future cannot exist without lawyers. Lawyers need to be a part of the solution. There are going to be some people who don’t like change, ever. There are going to be some luddites. But we can’t be swayed by them.”

Jack Sahl, professor at The University of Akron School of Law and faculty director of The Joseph G. Miller & William C. Becker Center for Professional Responsibility, called it a privilege to have Rampenthal speak at the school.

“His company is in a unique position to continue to drive the profession to make change,” said Sahl. “He is a national figure in this effort. Our foundation is built on trying to help others. We are supposed to aspire to higher ideals. Certainly one of those higher ideals is to meet the needs of the poor and others.”