By Thomas Alvord
Today, on January 23, 2020, LawHQ filed lawsuits against 9 state bars, in 9 different federal district courts.
Specifically, LawHQ has sued the state bars of Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Texas.
You may wonder: What wrong have these 9 state bars committed that warrants these lawsuits?
It’s actually not what they’ve done. Rather, it’s what they’ve not done. It’s their inaction that needs remedy.
In each of these 9 states the rules of professional conduct—which govern attorneys—forbid the use of trade names. (Or severely restrict the use of trade names).
In these states, if you have a law firm with the name of Smith PLLC, that’d be fine. Or you could have a law firm with the name of Martinez and Sanchez, and you’d be good. These are your traditional law firm names that include the name of one or more partners.
But if you want to operate a law firm under a trade name like Los Angeles Family Lawyers, or Downtown Legal, or LawHQ, it’s forbidden. And dare you operate under such a trade name, the state bars could penalize you, issue fines, and/or prohibit you from practicing law in that state for a period of time.
Most, if not all, of the other 41 state bars used to also prohibit law firms from using trade names. In the last decade or so, state bars have realized that the prohibition on trade names was overly broad and removed the outright prohibition. Yet today, 9 state bars still have not modified their rules and continue to unduly restrict the use of trade names.
LawHQ is a lawtech firm. In other words, we are a technology company that is also a law firm. We provide legal services. We also have a robocall app called CallerHQ.
The CallerHQ robocall app allows users to report calls, voicemails, and text messages as spam. We then track down the spammers, sue them in court, and split any awards 50/50 with users. Under federal law, each illegal call can be worth $500+.
Unlike virtually all other law firms that operate in just one or a handful of states, the scope of LawHQ is nationwide. We currently have attorneys in many states and by the end of 2020 we plan to have attorneys practicing law in each of the 50 states.
That leaves us with a clear dilemma. In 41 states, we are fine to operate under the trade name LawHQ. Yet, in these 9 other states, we’re forbidden to use the name LawHQ.
If we operate using the name LawHQ in these 9 states, we risk exposing our attorneys to penalties, fines, and sanctions. That is not acceptable for us.
So we brainstormed and came up with the following options:
The first and second options weren’t ones we wanted to pursue.
I thought the third option of changing my last name to LawHQ was quite creative. I seriously considered it. Some people thought it was a great idea, and others thought it was a horrible idea. I decided to table it.
That left us with options four and five. We ultimately decided on pursuing both of these options.
In October of 2019 we sent letters to each of the 9 state bars explaining our situation, and asking for approval or at least assurance they wouldn’t take action against us if we operated under the trade name LawHQ.
Some state bars didn’t respond. Some responded with no. Others said they couldn’t make any assurances. And at least one that we are aware of discussed it in a committee meeting, which unfortunately has yielded no results so far.
All in all we were given neither approval nor assurance that action wouldn’t be taken against us if we operated under the trade name LawHQ.
Our hope was that some, if not all, of the state bars would look at the developments in constitutional law as it relates to attorney advertising and commercial speech, see that their current rules are unconstitutional, and grant us approval or assurances. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
We obviously want to be on good terms with the different state bars. Making your first introduction by suing somebody isn’t quite the best way to make friends. Nonetheless, after having no luck with the letters, we were left with option five.
We’re happy to be working with Greg Beck who is a prominent first amendment free speech lawyer, and has successfully sued state bars in the past for unconstitutional violations of the First Amendment.
We are also glad to be working with local counsel in each of the 9 states. We are working with Matthew Tokajer (Georgia), Steven Lovern (Indiana), Bradley Clanton (Mississipi), Justin Dawson (Nebraska), Ron Donaher (New Jersey), Rachel Schulman (New York), Rob Robol (Ohio), Matthew Fabisch (Rhode Island), and Doug Powell & Clarissa Guajardo (Texas).
The lawsuits are now underway. Here is the list of the suits, with a hyperlink to each complaint:
|Georgia||LawHQ, LLC v. Frederick|
|Indiana||LawHQ, LLC et al v. G.|
|Mississippi||LawHQ, LLC et al v. Kilgore|
|Nebraska||Alvord et al. v. Weber|
|New Jersey||ALVORD et al v. CENTINARO|
|New York||LawHQ, LLC et al v. Dopico et al|
|Ohio||LawHQ, LLC v. Caligiuri|
|Rhode Island||LawHQ, LLC et al v Curtin|
|Texas||LawHQ, LLC et al v. Willing|
We hope for a quick resolution in these lawsuits. I suppose it will all depend on how committed the different state bars are to defending their trade name prohibitions. Whether it takes 5 weeks to resolve or 5 years, in the end, we look forward to practicing law in these 9 states and having a fruitful future with these 9 state bars.
While there is a very practical purpose for these lawsuits—namely, operating under the trade name LawHQ in these 9 states—these lawsuits represent far more than removing trade name prohibitions.
Rather, these lawsuits symbolize the beginning of a new era—at least to me, and I hope to others.
The prohibition on trade names stands as a representation of the old guard. The old way of doing law.
The abolishment of the trade name prohibitions beckons for a new era of law. It stands as an invitation for a new guard to come forward, with new solutions, new structures, and new services.
What's shocking about these remaining trade name prohibitions is what is says about the progress of the legal industry. The prohibitions mean there has not been a single modern law firm, with a consumer brand, that has offered legal services nationwide.
Is it necessary to operate nationwide to be innovative or provide value? Clearly not. But radical transformations don't operate in a localized area. Like Uber and Amazon, the technology scales beyond individual states and even nations.
I would ask, where's the Uber of law? Or the Amazon of law?
They're not here yet, but they'll be coming. I don't know who they are, but I'm pretty sure they won't be named Partner and Partner.
The lawsuits against the 9 state bars open the way for new law firms and brands to make their entrance. It's an invitation for innovation.
LawHQ hopes to be a part of that innovation and invites others to join.