With expanded DACA set to kick off in a couple of days, and DAPA on the horizon, it’s really no surprise that non-attorneys (and even non-immigration attorneys) are trying to get a bite of the apple. They figure that there are millions of potentially eligible individuals that will need help and gladly pay for it. And so, we get folks like H&R Block trying to do immigration work.
On the one hand, I really have no problem with this. Free market, baby. If H&R Block and others can actually do this work and provide value to immigrants, then everybody wins. Now if they can’t, that’s a horse of a different color, but bad legal advice can just as easily come from an attorney. I don’t think I’d want any heavy-handed bans in place, for instance.
On the other hand, as a practicing immigration attorney, who makes a living actually doing immigration, learning immigration law, and keeping up with the changes in the same, it grinds my gears a bit to have potential clients get swooped up by Johnny-come-latelys looking to make a quick buck. It’s particularly hard to put up a wall around your practice, though, when you’ve got a machine like H&R Block, with all of its advertising budget and none of a lawyer’s advertising restrictions, making headlines for venturing outside of its customary tax zone. Small practitioners and small firms don’t stand a chance unless they already have a built in pipeline of clients. It’s frustrating to say the least.
Since law school, I’ve had a real beef with the lawyer ethics rules regarding advertising, and this situation presents a perfect example of why. H&R Block can say pretty much whatever they want, with no oversight, in their ads. They can target whomever they want. There are literally no limits on their campaign. Meanwhile, lawyers have to get advertising approved in advance by the state bar and have a billion disclaimers plastered all over everything. To top it all off, we can’t just come out and say: “H&R Block may get it right. But we’re better than H&R Block. We will get it right.”
Does this rule really help the consumer? Absolutely not. It helps established firms and practitioners beat off new competition by restricting the public’s ability to meaningfully compare firms and attorneys. I don’t see that as a positive. The rules, particularly in regard to advertising, reek of paternalism and the belief that the public just isn’t smart enough to make an informed decision in regard to legal services if — heaven forbid — two attorneys said that they were the best lawyers in town!
I do believe that good lawyers do more than simply sell a defined service, but too many lawyers fail to realize that this actually is a business. By putting handcuffs on attorneys in the name of creating a level playing field, the state bar actually tips the scales heavily in favor of non-attorneys, like H&R Block, when they can step in and technically not be practicing law. The advertising rules are terrible in my mind regardless, but the fact that it puts all attorneys at a competitive disadvantage damages consumers because it makes it more likely that they will seek non-attorneys for their legal needs. And honestly, that’s just a roll of the dice.