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Perspective: Setting the Record Straight on the ABA Law Connect Program

March 28, 2016, 4:45 PM

By William H. Pugh, V, President, Pennsylvania Bar Association

Legal Mosaic CEO and founder Mark Cohen’s recent posting about the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s opposition to the ABA Law Connect program is misleading and requires clarification and response.

Unlike Mr. Cohen, the PBA recognizes that there needs to be a way for those with earnings above the qualifying level for legal services to have access to competent lawyers and sound legal advice, particularly in areas of family discord, loss of home and housing, and more. The ABA’s Law Connect is not one of those programs. It was specifically designed for — and limited to — those small business owners who may not necessarily be economically disadvantaged but who could be significantly damaged by bad legal advice as they start and grow their businesses.

The PBA’s lawyer referral service, which Mr. Cohen erroneously stated is a “key revenue generator that keeps the bar going,” has safeguards in place to ensure the public that it will get competent legal advice from those lawyers involved in our program. These lawyers show proof of malpractice insurance and are vetted for their experience and expertise. The PBA does not run a profit-making lawyer referral service. In fact, the PBA incurs far greater expenses in running its lawyer referral service than it gains.

The ABA must have been fearful that bar associations would raise red flags about the Law Connect program or else it would have informed the pilot states in advance. The ABA did not seek any input from our state and local bar associations, and we did not learn about the program until it was rolled out within our borders. The PBA, the Illinois Bar Association and more than 30 local bar associations have objected that the ABA unilaterally entered into a program without working with us. Although Mr. Cohen indicated that the California Bar Association didn’t have a problem with the ABA Law Connect program, he neglected to mention that The Bar Association of San Francisco, the San Fernando Valley Bar Association and California Lawyers for the Arts all opposed it.

The bottom line is that Rocket Lawyer and other similar entities should not be left unchallenged. They are simply profit-making ventures less interested in providing competent legal advice than they are in getting a large segment of the market to purchase and use their products and increase their own profits. This is a segment of the market that may not be equipped to understand that they are very possibly —and quite likely — getting less than competent legal advice.

It is unconscionable that rather than reaching out to the states and working collectively toward development of a delivery system that would provide competent, cost effective advice, the ABA took the easy route by “jumping into bed” with one of these for-profit entities, with an expressed goal of enhancing ABA membership and possible revenue streams to the ABA.

I find it ironic that Mr. Cohen claims that the PBA’s and the Illinois Bar’s opposition to the program is “about lawyer protectionism, not public good.” In point of fact, I believe Mr. Cohen’s column smacks of “tech protectionism” to the detriment of the public good.

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