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Software Cited for Unauthorized Law Practice

A recent decision from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals may be the first to cite a software program for the unauthorized practice of law. Entrepreneur Henry Ihejirika offered the so-called bankruptcy expert system through his company Frankfort Digital Services and a series of Web sites operating under the names, and others. Ziinet described the bankruptcy service this way:

"Ziinet is an expert system and knows the law. Unlike most bankruptcy programs which are little more than customized word processors the Ziinet engine is an expert system. It knows bankruptcy laws right down to those applicable to the state in which you live. Now you no longer need to spend weeks studying bankruptcy laws."

In 2002, Jayson Reynoso visited Ziinet, plunked down $219 and used the program to generate a complete set of Chapter 7 bankruptcy forms. But when he filed them, the trustee noticed errors in the petition. Upon questing Reynoso, he learned that the debtor had paid for the assistance of the artificial-intelligence program. The trustee brought an adversary proceeding against Ihejirika and his companies, alleging that the Web-based program had acted as a "bankruptcy petition preparer" in violation of the law and had engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. The bankruptcy court agreed, and the 9th Circuit, in a Feb. 27 decision, affirmed.

"Frankfort’s system touted its offering of legal advice and projected an aura of expertise concerning bankruptcy petitions; and, in that context, it offered personalized -- albeit automated -- counsel. ... We find that because this was the conduct of a non-attorney, it constituted the unauthorized practice of law."

As the Wired blog 27B Stroke 6 notes about the case, Ihejirika used a flesh-and-bones attorney for his defense. But Seth at QuizLaw raises an intriguing question: What if the software had first taken and passed the California bar exam?

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on March 8, 2007 at 03:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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