Pennsylvania Bar President William Pugh’s response to my article on ABA Law Connect was swift and predictable. His perspective explains why my piece was entitled: “The Opposition to ABA Law Connect was about Lawyer Protectionism, Not Public Good.” His argument makes the best case for mine.
Mr. Pugh sprinkles equal measures of indignity upon my misadvised and allegedly “misleading” perspective, the ABA, Rocket Lawyer (and service providers by implication), and technology. In the process, he completely disregards the laudatory objective of the ABA/Rocket Lawyer Law Connect Mission: to confront the access to justice crisis by enabling small businesses greater access to affordable legal advice. So too is his piece silent as to the thousands of unemployed and under-employed lawyers — many of whom practice in his state – who might benefit from programs like ABA Law Connect. And finally, the Pennsylvania Bar President neglects to consider the implications of a voluntary Bar and the tricky balance of serving paying members while acting for the profession and advancing the public interest.
Pugh writes that “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” noting family law and “loss of home and housing” as particular concerns. I assume this refers to those who earn more than the legal aid threshold and require legal representation. I agree. That was the overriding objective of ABA Law Connect: to provide competent, affordable representation by tapping into cutting edge technology (provided by Rocket Lawyer) and combining it with participating Bar member lawyers eager to assist. The fact, as Mr. Pugh suggests, that ABA Law Connect targeted small businesses is of no moment. The access to justice crisis the project sought to address affects both individuals and small businesses. And there are millions of them that currently go unrepresented because of the high cost of legal services.
The Bar President does not address the issue of his state’s voluntary Bar and the pressure that puts on the organization to drive value to its membership, even if that comes at the expense of the public or to the profession. This inherent economic conflict of interest is no doubt well known to Mr. Pugh whose law practice focuses on insurance companies. While his clients are those insured — not the companies — his “bread and butter” (to invoke a phrase he used in another context) is the companies that pay his bills. See a pattern here?
Equal scorn is heaped by the Pennsylvania Bar President upon the ABA whom he chastises for failing to “seek any input from our state and local bar associations” until Project Connect was underway. It’s telling — and unfortunate — that the notice issue trumps the laudatory objectives of the project from Mr. Pugh’s perspective. It smacks of territory marking. And his claim that notice was not given until after the program “was rolled out within our borders” speaks the plain language of parochialism and protectionism. Where’s the concern for the public and the profession?
Mr. Pugh asserts: “The bottom line is that Rocket Lawyer and other similar entities should not be left unchallenged.” He goes on to impugn their profit motive and concludes they are “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.” Apparently Mr. Pugh neglected to read Monica Bay’s interview of Rocket Lawyer’s CEO, Charley Moore, who articulated a keen interest in helping resolve the access to justice crisis. This was no money grab.
Mr. Pugh accuses the ABA of “jumping into bed” with “one of these for-profit entities” (Rocket Lawyer), noting it is “unconscionable.” He continues his invective by suggesting the ABA’s motivation (entering into the program) is “enhancing ABA membership and possible revenue streams to the ABA.” If the ABA promotes more programs like Law Connect, I’ll reactivate my membership.
The final salvo in “Setting the Record Straight” is the claim that “Mr. Cohen’s column smacks of ‘tech protectionism’ to the detriment of the public good. The logic eludes me but is reminiscent of trying a case against a pro se litigant. Sometimes it’s better not to dignify an illogical argument.
The Pennsylvania Bar President has certainly set the record straight. Access to justice is irrelevant, and the ABA should not mess with Pennsylvania ‘cause they like things the way they are thank you very much. And service providers have no place in legal delivery – especially technology companies. To suggest that technology might make legal service more accessible and affordable seems blasphemous by Mr. Pugh’s reckoning.
I’m not a member of the Pennsylvania Bar. Still, Groucho Marx’s words come to mind: “I do not care to be a member of any club that would have me as a member.”
This post was originally published on Bloomberg Big Law.