Power of Attorneys: Will the Organized Bar Thwart the Emergence of Online Law?

July 10, 2006
Because online legal services are a direct threat to revenues, the legal industry has used its regulatory power to thwart the emergence of these cheaper online legal offerings.

The Internet is reshaping not just business, but also professions, including accounting, medicine, optometry, real estate, securities trading, teaching, and law. The Internet and powerful “expert system” software allow consumers to reduce their dependence on professionals of all sorts by empowering them with information and tools, particularly those that carry out more routine, less complex tasks – providing considerable savings to consumers.

But while consumers benefit, some professionals may not. In fact, the emergence of these new information-technology and net-enabled professional services may present a challenge to professions. Some professionals may leave the profession, while still others will have to reinvent themselves, performing more complex, value-added functions. Because the Internet threatens these professions, public policy makers are facing pressures from “bricks and mortar” professionals to erect barriers to the emergence of these new services. However, if the Internet economy is to continue to flourish and consumers benefit, policy makers will need to resist these pressures and ensure that there is a level playing field upon which consumers can make their own choices. This policy brief examines one profession, law, in terms of how the Internet is changing it, how the legal industry has been and is likely to continue to resist changes, and what public policy makers should do to ensure that online and computer-based law flourishes.