Yesterday at its midyear meeting in San Diego, the American Bar Association passed a resolution urging states to adopt regulatory objectives for all non-traditional legal service providers (LSPs). This is a pleasant surprise and victory for those advocating for more accessible and affordable legal services, as it signals the ABA is looking forward at the future of legal services and is open to the creation of new types of LSPs.
The resolution does not strictly advocate for the creation of any new forms of LSPs, but it outlines a framework on how the courts will address them and indicates openness to expanding non-lawyer LSPs. When arguing for the passage of the resolution, Judy Martinez, the chairman of the Commission on Future of Legal Services stated, “There’s room in this space to think differently about how we provide legal services.” These non-traditional LSPs include already existing programs such as the Limited License Legal Technicians (LLLTs) in Washington State and housing court navigators in New York. The resolution includes basic objectives for regulating all LSPs, such as maintaining protection of the public, advancing administration of justice and the rule of law, and meaningful access to justice. This Resolution comes less than a week after the Conference of Chief Justices passed a resolution supporting transparency in the regulations lawyers and non-lawyer LSPs. The mention of non-lawyer LSPs in both resolutions signals an increase in support for the creation of new providers that are better able to meet the legal needs of all consumers.
Although the resolution passed, it faced opposition from many members of the ABA. The outcry came from protectionist concerns for the industry, with one member opposed to the resolution because it “presume[s] there’s a place for non-lawyers to provide legal services.” The complaints about non-lawyer LSPs from Bar Associations have been based on complaints such as the already high unemployment rate of recent law school graduates and the business that they could take from small law firms. These objections clearly show that lawyers who oppose new types of LSPs do so based on their own interests and ignore the large groups of Americans who cannot afford legal services. These claims rooted in a “save our profession” attitude are examples of the antitrust concerns that have arisen in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. FTC.
After the Resolution passed, ABA President Paulette Brown said, “The adoption of Resolution 105 is intended to create a framework to guide the courts in the face of the burgeoning access to justice crisis and fast-paced change affecting the delivery of legal services.” Responsive Law Executive Director Tom Gordon lauded the decision, saying “It’s wonderful to see that at least part of the ABA has recognized that change is coming to the legal profession and that it’s the bar’s responsibility to adapt to that change in a way that benefits consumers, rather than naked self-interest.”
Bridgette Harrison is a Responsive Law intern.