Via America’s Lawyer: A new App, “Text A Lawyer” wants to be the next Uber. Slated to launch next month, it allows consumers to get answers to their legal questions by text for a flat price of $20. Mike Papantonio is joined by Mollye Barrows, Legal Journalist for the Trial Lawyer Magazine, to discuss whether this new App is ethical.
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Mike Papantonio: So, Text A Lawyer wants to be the next Uber. Slated to launch next month is a service that allows consumers to get answers to their legal question by text for a flat price of $20.
Joining me to talk about this is Mollye Barrows, Legal Journalist for The Trial Lawyer Magazine. This is way out there on the edge of weird, okay.
Here’s my take on it, really quick.
Mollye Barrows: Yes.
Mike Papantonio: This is so fraught with malpractice that I can’t even get my arms around it. I mean, you know, Text A Lawyer, I don’t know how they buy enough coverage, and it’s not like they can say, “Well, you can’t sue me because I gave you some bad advice, or gave you incomplete advice. Oh, gee whiz, I didn’t know what your Statute of Limitation was. Gee whiz, I didn’t know you were in that jurisdiction.” This is so piled up with malpractice it just makes me crazy.
Mollye Barrows: Well, it’s going to be interesting because the business model of Uber is pretty simple. It’s basically connecting a customer or a client with a service, and you know, basically your app is your middle man. That’s what this guy is trying to do.
His name is Kevin Gillespie, his out of Oregon and Washington. In fact, that’s the only places, the only two states where this is going to launch, but he’s been working with a national law firm to try to iron out the legal wrinkles, if you will, and make sure that they meet all the legal criteria in every state. I think they’ve done that, he says, supposedly in all but just a couple.
He’s going to need more investors, or whatever, to take it national, but he’s starting small in those two states that I mentioned, and he’s also just dealing with tenant-landlord issues.
The concept is fairly simple. Again, you know, he’s targeting, his client base is moderate to low income, people that normally couldn’t afford an attorney, maybe they’ve got some tenant-landlord dispute questions. They can go to this service, if you will, fill in a little bit of information, and then there’s … That’s one, so it works just like the Uber app. You have your clients, your customers, that want the ride, and then you’ve got the second pool of riders that are available to take the call.
You have your group that goes in, has a legal question, and then you have your pool of attorneys that are waiting to respond to that. Each of these attorneys, every time they login, they’ve got to verify their bar rating, their status, rather, as well as their ratings with various different, you know, legal measurements, if you will.
They do try to take steps to cover their butt. They have the client sign a form saying, “I’m not going to hold you accountable if you mess me up.”
Mike Papantonio: Here’s the problem: you can’t do it, okay. You can not, in a malpractice case, hold yourself harmless.
Mollye Barrows: Well, it’s supposed to be simple cases, right?
Mike Papantonio: Let me talk about that just a second. Simple cases might work-
Mollye Barrows: So subjective.
Mike Papantonio: … but it’s gotta be so simple that it’s the same status wherever you go. There are so many moving parts on this.
Look, when I saw this story, my initial reaction was this had to do with maybe business getting. In other words, that this guy might have been in Oregon and he’s got lawyers throughout the country that he’s trying to send cases, okay. Maybe this is a way to, “Hey, I got a case out of Florida, and it involved a trucking accident. Do you want to handle this? Do you want to be involved?” Even that is really a dangerous process.
Mollye Barrows: You know what it reminded me of? Especially with the pricing structure, because you pay 20 bucks to even access the information, and then suppose that, you know, Mollye Burrows, I contact you, you’re the attorney waiting, Mike Papantonio answering my questions about a bad renter or a tenant that won’t leave, and then I’ve got a couple of follow up questions for you. Well, if your time is up, then I pay you an extra nine bucks for answering these follow up questions, so it’s almost like getting your palm read, you know?
Mike Papantonio: This is not exactly like WebMD, okay.
Mollye Barrows: Correct.
Mike Papantonio: WebMD is, you know, my foot hurts, it’s a weird pain that’s radiating up my leg, let me do WebMD and see what it says. Well, they don’t say, “Here’s the cure.” They simply say, “You might want to consider these things.” You can take it that far.
What’s this guy’s name?
Mollye Barrows: Kevin Gillespie.
Mike Papantonio: Mr. Gillespie, I would tell Mr. Gillespie to get a lot of coverage. Get a lot of coverage and keep it so simple that, you know, there aren’t … You can’t really color outside the lines.
Mollye Barrows: And I think that’s where you’re going to have your disputes. People don’t know what ‘simple’ is. They may think their case is simple, lo and behold, it may actually be for one of these attorneys, but it may not be for one too.
Mike Papantonio: Well, you could have the issues like states that you have uncontested divorces, for example. You could say, “Here’s a list of things you need to know. I’m not giving you advice on this, but here’s a list of things that you need to know. Oh, by the way, here’s some lawyers you might want to talk to.” That maybe is another realm of protection.
You know, don’t get me wrong, Mollye, I like this kind of thing where you do make law and legal issues more approachable-
Mollye Barrows: Accessible, mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mike Papantonio: But when you’re paying $20, and you’re getting any kind of advice-
Mollye Barrows: And it’s going up every time you have a follow up question. It’s almost like getting your palm read. You know, you’re calling the lawyer up, going, “Hey, what’s going to happen in the future? Oh, five more dollars? Oh, five more dollars?” Whatever the case may be, so they do charge you a little bit for additional questions, but they are trying to wrap it up, I guess, to where you’re satisfied as a client.
Mike Papantonio: Thank you.
Mollye Barrows: Thank you.
Mike Papantonio: Let’s keep up with this as it develops.