A South-Florida-based tech company founded by a non-attorney promises to allow drivers to effectively fight their traffic tickets from their smartphones. Playing what is essentially a game of averages, the startup app launched a service that offers drivers resolution to their traffic ticket for a fee that is 15 to 20 percent less than the ticket fee. The app then contacts someone in a network of independent lawyers, who then fight the traffic ticket. If the attorney loses, the app will refund the driver’s money. If they win, then they pay more than they might have for beating the ticket, but walk away with a clean driving record.
This has not gone over well at all with the Florida Bar or several criminal defense law firms. The biggest problem with this app is that it is not a law firm. It is not operated by attorneys. Florida statutes are very stringent when it comes to restricting who may offer legal advice to people seeking counsel. The Florida Bar has received complaints claiming the tech start-up is effectively practicing law without a license. The attorneys who have been working with the app have reportedly had grievances filed against them, with requests to have them disbarred.
The tech company, operational in 28 Florida locations and 15 California locations, has reportedly helped to resolve millions of traffic tickets. It is suing both private criminal defense firms as well as The Florida Bar, which it alleges have helped anti-competition by dragging out its investigation for nearly a year. But private defense attorneys say the company is engaged in the unlicensed practice of law, which is not only against the ethics laid out by the Florida Bar, it’s also against the law. The Florida Bar voted last month to pursue litigation against the tech firm for violating its rules. As for criminal charges, none are pending at the moment, but, Florida Statute 454.23 stipulates the unlicensed or unauthorized practice of law in Florida by anyone who holds himself or herself out to be qualified to practice law or who pretends to be or willfully takes/ uses any name, title or description implying they are qualified, is a third-degree felony. A conviction carries up to five years in prison. Continue reading