“Now let me welcome everybody to the Wild Wild West
A state that’s untouchable like Eliot Ness”
Is the practice of law in west coast states really untouchable?
Rules on law firm ownership and nonlawyer ability to provide legal delivery services could be changing in some western American states, ushering in possibilities of industry-shaking changes to the practice and the business of law.
Utah, California, Arizona, and Washington have each made headlines in recent weeks as task groups begin to critically rethink ethic rules that have traditionally limited ownership in law firms to lawyers and regulated who can provide legal advice. Much of this comes in the wake of the rapid advancement in legal technology, challenging the “guild” notion reserving the practice of law exclusively to barred attorneys.
The Utah Work Group on Regulatory Reform
Utah isn’t alone. The State Bar of California Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Legal Services has made available for public comment
Similarly, Arizona’s Task Force on Delivery of Legal Services
And then there’s Washington. The state has limited practice officers (LPO) and limited license legal technicians (LLLT), whose presence in the state bar is expanding. The state’s Practice of Law Board is
Washington, D.C. was the first jurisdiction to remove the ban on non-lawyer ownership of law firms. Other states, including New York, Massachusetts, and Maryland, have been the site for budding interest and baby steps towards rethinking the ethics rules around nonlawyer ownership in legal businesses, albeit often rebuffed. But, the task forces and proposals made in the western states represent, as Furlong calls it, “
Not everyone shares this sentiment. When the American Bar Association’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services asked lawyers in 2016 if it should relax its own opposition to non-lawyers investing in law firms,
Some fear this fully opens the door for the Big 4 consulting firms to make further inroads into the U.S. legal market. D.C.’s 2017 decision paved the way for PwC’s launch of its new law firm, ILC Legal, in the District in 2017. Since then, each of the Big 4 have announced strategic legal alliances with law firms or legal businesses. In a
But, despite criticism, the market trends may be too great to overlook. With
New business solutions and new pathways to legal services leveraging legal technology continue to be a growth area being closely watched by clients and lawyers, as shown by the increased interest in reforms from US state bar associations.