Referee Rules Against Florida Bar in UPL Action Against TIKD Services
TIKD is a start-up based in Coral Gables, Florida created by Christopher Riley, not a member of the Florida Bar, which provides a technology platform and financial guarantee for drivers who have received a traffic ticket. The Service is offered in four Florida counties and in four other states.
The Florida Bar sued TIKD to put it out of business under the theory that the service constituted "the unauthorized practice of law."
How It Works
A person who has received a traffic ticket can request TIKD's services by uploading a picture of the ticket and creating an account.
TIKD then performs an internal analysis, powered by a software algorithm on the uploaded ticket, before agreeing to provide its services to the driver. TIKD does not give the driver any legal advice or tell the driver about available defenses or the likelihood of a fine. If TIKD declines the ticket, it notifies the driver and the driver is not charged. If TIKD accepts the ticket the driver is charged a percentage of the face amount of the ticket. The driver makes no other payments.
In exchange for the one-time charge to the driver, TIKD (1) pays an independent licensed Florida attorney who contracts separately with the driver and defends the driver's ticket i court; (2) pays any fine and/or court costs imposed against the driver, if the ticker is not dismissed; and (3) provides the driver a full refund of any "points" are issued against the driver's license, while still paying any court court costs and/or fines. TIKD does not guarantee that ticket will be dismissed or that drivers will not receive points on their licenses.
All legal representation and advice is provided by a licensed Florida attorney who do ticket defense in their private practice and who are not employed or controlled by TIKD.
On behalf of the ticketed driver, TIKD pays the lawyers a flat fee per ticket defended, regardless of outcome, and TIKD does not receive any fees, payments, orother compensation from these independent lawyers.
The Florida Bar alleged that this system constitutes the "Unauthorized Practice of Law." The Referee, assigned by the Florida Supreme Court to decide the matter, concluded that:
There was no evidence that the consenting public interests are at risk because of the actions of TIKD, but instead furthers the consuming public interest's of providing a speedy, efficient and relatively painless way to deal with traffic traffics.
The Referee also concluded that TIKD " is not engaged in the unlicensed practice of law and does not advertise in a way that would lead a reasonable person to believe that TIKD is offering legal services to the public."
Further, "the fact that TIKD, rather than the customer, pays the attorney does not convert TIKD's services into the practice of law. It is permissible for a third party to pay an attorney on behalf of a client, if the relationship is disclosed."
The Referee further determined that the attorneys contracted by TIKD were completely independent and the prominent disclaimers make clear that TIKD is not a law firm, does not give legal advice, and do not represent the user in any legal matter.
TIKD provides a "convenient service that enables users who have received traffic tickets to resolve their case with the assistance of an attorney, faster and at less expense than in a traditional lawyer/client relationship."
Final disposition of this case requires approval of the Florida Supreme Court, and I expect they will affirm the opinion.
This case can be seen as a "case study" in the way the organized bar seeks to suppress innovation in the delivery of legal services because it threatens the income stream of a faction of traditional lawyers threatened by competition. The traditional lawyers in this case are lawyers who operate storefront "ticket clinics", but provide services in the "traditional" manner of one to one service - a service which is not software powered.
Under the cover of "Unauthorized Practice of Law", a broadly defined term, that is justified because "consumers must be protected", the organized bar seeks to protect its members from competition. The cost of defending these actions by the provider is very high, and most providers will not have the resources to defend themselves against an onslaught by the organized bar. In most instances the provider will go out of business.
This is an abuse of power and anti-competitive. It is time for the definition of what constitutes "the unauthorized practice of law" to be more narrowly defined as the overly broad definition now in use results in restricting access to the legal system.
It's time for change.