Federal Antitrust Agencies Submit Joint Statement to the North Carolina General Assembly on Legislation Regarding Online Legal Forms

Bill May Help Increase Access to Legal Services, Agencies Say

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In response to a request by North Carolina State Senator Bill Cook, the Federal Trade Commission staff and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division have submitted a statement to the North Carolina legislature on the possible competition and consumer impacts of a legislative proposal regarding online legal forms and the practice of law.

North Carolina House Bill 436 would exclude from the statutory definition of the practice of law the operation of a website that generates legal documents based on consumer responses to questions presented by interactive software, provided certain conditions are satisfied.

As stated in the comment, the agencies encourage the legislature to consider the benefits of interactive websites for consumers and competition in evaluating HB 436. “Interactive software for generating legal forms may be more cost-effective for some consumers, may exert downward price pressure on licensed lawyer services, and may promote the more efficient and convenient provision of legal services,” the comment stated. “Such products may also help increase access to legal services by providing consumers additional options for addressing their legal situations.”

The comment further recommended that, “any consumer protections, such as requiring disclosures, be narrowly tailored to avoid unnecessarily inhibiting competition and new ways of delivering legal services that may benefit consumers.”

The Commission vote to issue the staff comment was 3-0. It was sent to North Carolina State Senator Bill Cook on June 10, 2016. (FTC File No. V160012; the staff contact is Christopher M. Grengs, Bureau of Competition, 202-326-2612.)

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