Deregulation of the Legal Profession is Coming

There are de-regulatory actions and movements in some states to enable innovative legal service models that are designed to  close the Justice Gap. It is estimated that nearly 80% of low to middle incomes individuals and families cannot afford the high cost of legal fees.

A Utah Task Force has called for ‘Profoundly Reimagining the Way Legal Services are Regulated‘ as an approach to closing the Justice Gap. This Supreme Court appointed Task Force has proposed a new structure for the regulation of legal services. This structure would enable broad-based investment and participation in business entities that provide legal services, including non-lawyer investment in and ownership of non-law firm entities that would deliver legal services. The Report is titled: Narrowing the Access-to-Justice Gap by Reimagining Regulation, among its recommendations are encouraging non-traditional sources of legal services, including non-lawyers and allow them to test innovative legal service models and delivery systems through a “regulatory sandbox.” This approach will provide a test bed for evaluating new approaches to delivering legal services. 

The American Bar Association at their August Annual Meeting (2019) adopted a Resolution proposed by the New York State Bar Association that establishes “Best Practices for On-Line Legal Document Providers“.  The purpose of the Resolution is to set standards for non-lawyer providers of legal documents that protect consumers, but the significance of the Resolution is that it gives recognition to the fact that an important segment of the legal services industry serves low and moderate income families through non-lawyer online legal document companies.

Another important development are the recommendations of a  State Bar of California task force that has proposed dramatic changes in the lawyer regulatory structure in California. The California Task Force is also recommending non-lawyer ownership of law firms and a new regulatory structure that would enable non-law firm entities to deliver legal solutions to consumers. 

These developments suggest that closing the justice gap in the United States will require dramatic changes to the way the legal profession is organized and regulated. These are early stage developments, but are suggestive of a trend that will likely accelerate in the fullness of time.

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