The Ticket Clinic founder Mark Gold is pleased as punch after two new developments in his law firm’s showdown with Coral Gables-based ticket-fighting startup Tikd.
First, a Florida state senator on Wednesday withdrew an amendment that would have made Tikd and other “traffic infraction networks” exempt from penalties for the unlicensed practice of law. The withdrawal came minutes after Gold told senators the bill put “the practice of law itself” at stake.
Former Florida Bar President Ramon Abadin withdrew his appearance for Tikd the same day in an $11 million antitrust lawsuit against the bar and the Ticket Clinic for allegedly trying to drive the startup out of business. Last month, the bar moved to disqualify Abadin, claiming his 2015-16 presidency gave him access to confidential information relevant to the litigation.
But the tiff between the 30-year-old, 300-employee Ticket Clinic and its new tech-driven rival Tikd is far from over. And the dispute raises questions that weigh heavily on the minds of legal practitioners around the country as tech companies invade the legal space.
Tikd was founded about a year ago by a nonlawyer, Chris Riley. He had the idea to play a game of averages: A motorist can upload a minor traffic ticket, pay a fee lower than the fine on the citation, and Tikd will contract a lawyer to fight the ticket. If the lawyer loses, Tikd promises to refund the client’s money. But most of the time, Tikd figures the lawyer will win.
The company spent its early days under a bar investigation, and last month the Florida Bar board of governors voted to pursue litigation against Tikd for violating rules on the unlicensed practice of law.
In the meantime, Tikd hired lobbying firm Ballard Partners to look into changing the state law regulating attorneys. State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, filed his proposal before the Senate regulated industries committee Wednesday.
Testimony at the hearing outlined the divide on the issue: Should Florida deregulate companies like Tikd to give consumers more choice, or would that open the door to a stream of techies accountable to no one?
Ballard Partners lobbyist Mathew Forrest told senators the proposed amendment would not affect bar rules. Instead, it would open up the marketplace for ticket-dismissal platforms like those popping up around the country — GetDismissed, LegalTap and WinIt.
“I think of it as Uber for attorneys,” Forrest said. “This basically provides a platform for a consumer to get an attorney. All the usual rules that an attorney has are still in place. … This is great for the consumer because they have the convenience now to get an attorney, and it’s also great for the attorney.”
Florida Bar lawyer Warren Husband of Metz, Husband & Daughton in Tallahassee attended the hearing and told senators the bar had no position on the bill.
Gold had a clear position. “This bill is clearly the unauthorized practice of law by nonlawyers, unregulated, and it’s going to be the Wild West if it’s allowed,” he testified.
He said the amendment was a slippery slope that could allow his nonlawyer neighbor to open shop doing real estate closings for $1,000 and hire an attorney at $250 to do the work with no oversight to prevent him from absconding with customers’ money.
“Who’s stopping them?” Gold asked of Tikd. “They can say anything they want, they can do anything they want, they can close up shop whenever they want, and there’s no one there to stop them.”
Brandes withdrew his measure immediately after Gold’s remarks.
“Look, these ideas sometimes take years to germinate,” Brandes told colleagues. “Uber took us four years to get through this process. I’m going to save us all a little bit of problems and withdraw this amendment at this time.”
Tikd declined to comment on its next steps.
Gold called the withdrawal a “big win” for The Ticket Clinic, along with Abadin’s decision to bow out of the federal antitrust litigation.
Robert Kuntz of Devine Goodman Rasco & Watts-FitzGerald in Coral Gables will step in as local counsel. Co-counsel Peter Kennedy and David King of Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody in Austin, Texas, are handling a number of antitrust cases against state bars.
“Given the arguments at the hearing regarding the motion to disqualify Abadin and the pending motion for sanctions filed by my counsel, Chris Kleppin, I believe he had no choice but to withdraw or face much more dire consequences,” Gold said.
The bar declined to comment.
Abadin, a Coral Gables solo practitioner who made technology’s impact on the practice of law a focus of his bar presidency, referred a request for comment to Tikd, which offered no response Thursday.