Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal featured an op-ed from Responsive Law executive director Tom Gordon. (If you don’t have a Wall Street Journal subscription, you may be able to access the article through our Facebook page.)
As many of you may know, a large majority of the American public cannot afford legal services. As this op-ed notes, there has been a rise in nonlawyers creating innovative models to offer affordable legal services. I am extremely enthusiastic about this trend; more affordable services means that more Americans will be able to find protection in the law and redress in the courts. However, as this op-ed also points out, there has also been an unfortunate trend wherein bar associations and lawyers have used unauthorized practice of law regulations to push out or shut down nonlawyer legal service providers.
The op-ed tells the story of a nonlawyer who started a business, who seemingly was able to provide satisfactory services to his growing customer base but was nevertheless investigated by the attorney general for violating the unauthorized practice of law statutes of New York. There is also a brief overview on UPL statutes, their purpose, and how they are currently being used and by whom. As a recent law school graduate, I believe that it is vital for the legal profession to find a healthy balance between protecting the professionalism of our field and making sure that our services are accessible to Americans of all income backgrounds. This is the balance that the UPL statute should strike. If UPL laws do not strike that balance, then reform of those laws, as the op-ed suggests, should become a priority for all of us who do care sincerely about access to justice.