Alex Guirguis, co-founder of Off the Record, holds the app up on his phone as he poses in 2016 with the car that has gotten him a few speeding tickets. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire)
A Seattle startup that helps drivers fight traffic tickets is celebrating what it calls “a big win” this week in a dispute brought by attorneys who claim the service is unethical.
The Washington State Bar Association’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel dismissed a grievance brought against Off the Record, a 3-year-old startup that streamlines the process of fighting traffic tickets in court. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed the decision, which means it cannot be appealed.
“This really is a David vs. Goliath story — hot shot, establishment attorneys coming after a local startup because of our quick and unexpected success,” Off The Record co-founder Alex Guirguis said via email.
In the complaint, Lisa Donaldson and 11 other Washington state traffic attorneys claimed that Off The Record’s business model raised ethical red flags. The grievance alleged Off The Record controls attorneys fees, which causes them to yield “their professional independence to the company.”
Off The Record users provide a photo of their traffic ticket, answer a few questions, and are assigned a lawyer with an established track record fighting tickets. Customers communicate with their attorneys using the app, which Donaldson and co-signing attorneys said could threaten “the privileged nature of such communications.”
Other allegations included deceptive advertising and compromising attorneys’ “duty of diligence” by pushing to streamline the process.
The Washington State Bar Association regulates legal disputes pertaining to attorneys, known as grievances. Donaldson filed hers against Jacques LeJeune, an attorney who works with Off The Record.
The disciplinary board recognized that “there is considerable nationwide discussion of the issues surrounding the use of marketing and matching services like OTR” but chose to dismiss the grievance because there isn’t “specific evidence of client/consumer harm.”
Off The Record’s services are available in 30 states and the company claims to have a 97 percent success rate fighting tickets. The company is fending off a similar grievance in California. Guirguis sees the friction as par for the course for a disruptive business.
“We expect we’ll have to deal with this in each state in which we operate,” he said.