, Volume 18, Issue 3, pp 285-309
Date: 13 Nov 2010

The use of legal software by non-lawyers and the perils of unauthorised practice of law charges in the United States: a review of Jayson Reynoso decision

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Abstract

This paper critically reviews the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit In re: Jayson Reynoso: Frankfort Digital Services et al., v. Sara L. Kistler, United States Trustee et al. (2007) 447 F.3d 1117. The appellants, who were non-lawyers, were indicted with unauthorised practice of law for offering bankruptcy petition services via online legal software or expert systems in law configured for filing bankruptcy petition forms. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found inter alia that appellants were bankruptcy petition preparers, and not being lawyers, had exceeded their clerical remit by offering legal advice and legal services in contravention of California law regulating legal practice and 11 U.S.C. Sect. 110 of the Bankruptcy Code (2002). While examining the legal ramifications of the use of legal software by non-lawyers in the preparation of legal documents, the paper critically reviews the factual circumstances of the Reynoso decision in the context of juridical and statutory constructs of unauthorised practice of law in the United States. The paper poses the question whether Reynoso should be viewed as a one-off decision bound by its peculiar facts, or good law for the broad proposition that non-lawyers cannot use legal software in legal documents preparation. The paper also notes the possible legal barriers to an unconditional ban on the design, sale, distribution, and uses of legal software by non-lawyers. These range from the First Amendment right to free speech, constitutional right to pro se legal representation, interstate commerce doctrine, to antitrust provisions of the Sherman Act. A regime of best practices for the use of legal software or expert systems in law by non-lawyers is proffered.