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The judicial branch of government has the power to regulate the practice of law. When applying Missouri's unauthorized practice of law statute, Mo. Rev. Stat. § 484.020, it is impossible to lay down an exhaustive definition of "the practice of law." In any event, the Missouri general assembly may only assist the judiciary by providing penalties for the unauthorized practice of law, the ultimate definition of which is always within the province of the Missouri Supreme Court.
Internet company LegalZoom maintained a website—www.legalzoom.com—which offered online legal document forms and services. It offered various blank legal forms that customers may download, print, and fill in themselves. It also offered a self-help internet portal wherein after a customer completes an online questionnaire, an employee will prepare the requested legal documents by entering the information provided by the customer into a template, checking for formatting and completeness of information. Plaintiffs Janson, Ardrey, Ferrell and C&J Remodeling LLC filed a claim for unlawful practice of law on four counts. Court certified the class action on the basis that plaintiffs did not argue that any of LegalZoom’s legal documents were in any way flawed, but rather that the overarching issue is whether LegalZoom’s preparation of legal documents violates Missouri law.
Does LegalZoom’s services constitute practice of Law under Missouri law?
This Court was bound to apply the decisions of the Missouri Supreme Court regarding Missouri's unauthorized practice of law statute. Following previously decided cases such as In re Thompson, it has become law in Missouri, as it is in other jurisdictions, that the practice of law did not include the sale of “do-it-yourself” kits, which includes blank legal forms and general instructions. However, the Court herein held that LegalZoom’s internet portal did not offer self-help merchandise but a legal document service which goes beyond the role of a notary or public stenographer. LegalZoom's internet portal sold more than merely a good (i.e., a kit for self-help) but also a service (i.e., preparing that legal document). Because those that provide that service were not authorized to practice law in Missouri, there was a clear risk of the public being served in legal matters by "incompetent or unreliable persons." Hulse, 247 S.W.2d at 858.