The American Bar Association’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services recently released an issue paper on non-lawyer legal service providers (LSPs) and their role in providing consumers with accessible legal help. The purpose of the issue paper was to explore whether a new regulatory system for non-lawyer LSPs was warranted and whether it would improve the quality and availability of legal services for consumers. The Commission seems inclined to proceed with the expansion of non-lawyer LSPs, but is uncertain as to whether it should do so without implementing a new regulatory system for them.
Responsive Law was the only consumer group to submit testimony to the Commission. We believe that non-lawyer legal service providers should be allowed to operate, and that new regulations would not benefit the public. Our testimony concluded that further regulation of non-lawyer LSPs would adversely affect consumers by limiting their ability to get legal help easily and affordably.
Regulating legal service providers would hinder competition for customers between lawyers and non-lawyer LSPs. This competition benefits consumers because it lowers cost and produces more avenues for them to seek legal help. Responsive Law’s reply mentioned the Washington State Bar Association’s licensing regulations for limited license legal technicians (LLLTs) and the strenuous process that they endure in order to get a license. If the ABA House of Delegates adopts similar requirements, the public’s access to affordable legal services would remain limited despite the copious legal needs of the public.
The Commission expressed concern about non-lawyer LSPs being “unregulated.” However, non-lawyer LSPs do have to follow certain regulations. While a car wash isn’t subject to special car wash regulations, it is still subject to generally applicable laws and regulations that protect consumers. These laws protect consumers from having their windows broken by the car wash operators, or from having the car stolen by them. Similarly, even without additional regulation by the bar, non-lawyer LSPs are deterred from harmful conduct by laws against fraud and other consumer protection regulations. For the Commission to refer to these service providers as “unregulated” isn’t accurate.
Responsive Law’s testimony noted that there is no support for the bar’s frequent assertion that existing non-lawyer LSPs harm consumers—certainly not at a greater rate than lawyers do. As Commission Vice Chair Andrew Perlman noted elsewhere, LegalZoom has operated for 10 years with “no reliable evidence of incompetence.” The nonprofit consumer advice service Call for Action has no reported consumer harm after operating for 53 years. Harvard’s Small Claims Advisory Service, operated by undergraduate students, does not have any reports of consumer harm for the 43 years it has been operational. There are also examples abroad in the United Kingdom where consumers are more satisfied with their experiences with non-lawyer LSPs than those with lawyers. The United Kingdom’s Citizens Advice has helped consumers for over 75 years, and has a 97% consumer satisfaction rating, as opposed to American lawyers, who have a consumer satisfaction rating of 76%. Existing LSPs function with little to no consumer harm reported and maintain satisfactory results without the need for a new regulatory system.
The Commission is expected to release its final proposal on this issue in August.
If you would like to read Responsive Law’s full response, click here.
Morgan Newell is a Responsive Law intern.
Delaware Governor Jack Markell recently wrote an opinion article urging states to remove many of their professional licensing requirements. License requirements often do more to protect existing service providers than they do to protect consumers. These requirements also leave consumers with fewer options and, therefore, higher prices when seeking services. Gov. Markell specifically discusses how requiring someone assisting an evictee in landlord-tenant court to have a law degree leaves many tenants without any assistance. Gov. Markell formed a committee to “review existing licensing regulations and and recommend ways to eliminate unnecessary barriers to entry.”
Responsive Law agrees with the reforms that Gov. Markell has initiated conversation about and hopes that he is successful in implementing them. Responsive Law believes that these reforms could have significant advantages for consumers and their access to legal help. Such reforms could assist non-lawyer legal service providers (LSPs) in supplying expertise to consumers who need legal help. Consumers could more easily and affordably receive services such as simple wills and uncontested divorces, which can be competently provided by trained non-lawyers.
Responsive Law looks forward to providing the committee with its input about reforming licensing regulations.
Morgan Newell is a Responsive Law intern
The State Bar of California has established the Governance in the Public Interest Task Force to help improve the public protection function of the State Bar. California law holds the protection of the public as the State Bar’s highest priority. Responsive Law believes that unchecked self-governance by lawyers is not in the interest of the public, and issued comments offering guidelines that would better protect the public.
After the North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission case last year, state bar associations have found themselves vulnerable to antitrust suits, and the State Bar of California is no exception. For a full analysis of the Dental Examiners case click here. Subject to approval by the California Supreme Court’s approval they can pass regulations that restrict the practice of law by even highly trained non-lawyers. While the State Bar argues that these restrictions protect the public, many of the state bar’s members support these measures as a way to protect themselves from competition.
Many state bars claim that they are exempt from antitrust liability because they are supervised by the courts, which are a branch of government. However the justices on the California Supreme Court are required to have been practicing lawyers for ten years before becoming justices, and most return to private practice after their terms end. It is against the public interest for these justices to be making decisions on regulations that will directly affect their financial interests when their term is over. Furthermore, under FTC guidelines, they still count as active market participants, which means that antitrust liability would still apply to the Bar’s actions.
To resolve this conflict, California should grant a non-judicial agency oversight of any anti-competitive actions proposed by the State Bar. This would make the State Bar more accountable to the public.
Responsive Law urges the State Bar of California to recognize that the public cannot have a say in how they receive or pay for legal services unless the protectionist impulses of lawyers are curbed by an agency without a financial stake in allowing such impulses.
To read Responsive Law’s full testimony click here.
James Duffy is a Responsive Law Intern.
Recently the American Bar Association’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services published a paper on how to make legal checkups more effective and widely available to the public. Responsive Law believes the guidelines have promise and issued comments on ways the guidelines could further benefit consumers.
Legal checkups are a critical tool that can identify when consumers’ problems have legal solutions. One example would be an online questionnaire where a consumer plugs in their information, and software judges whether or not their problem has a legal solution. There are millions of people in the United States that lack access to legal services, many of whom do not even know they have a problem those services could solve. In New York State alone there are nearly two million people who don’t realize their problems have legal solutions. Legal checkups would allow people to receive immediate feedback and legal solutions and resources.
The Commission’s guidelines would protect a consumer’s privacy, require the accuracy of documents used for checkups, ensure that all checkup providers are truthful and honest with consumers, and that they must provide a list of legal resources to the consumer if a problem is found.
The language in the issue paper seems to indicate that the ABA envisions bar associations as the primary promoters of legal checkups to the public. Responsive Law urged the Commission that the private sector has a role to play in providing legal checkups to consumers. A major ad campaign by a private business can do more than PSAs from the bar to raise awareness of the need for legal checkups. For instance the online legal service marketplace Avvo spent $20 million this year on an ad campaign that raised awareness of the need for legal services.
However the ABA could help consumers even more by clarifying that non-lawyers can give these checkups. This would give consumers the choice between a lawyer or a trained non-lawyer. Without having to worry about fighting court battles just to keep their businesses afloat, non-lawyer service providers could invest more into innovating this field and provide more legal checkups to a public in desperate need of them.
To read Responsive Law’s full testimony click here.
James Duffy is a Responsive Law Intern.
Responsive Law has issued comments to the DC Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law recommending improvements to the District of Columbia's rules on the unauthorized practice of law, or UPL. Responsive Law urged the committee to recommend revising the UPL law so non-lawyers would be able to offer legal services to the many low- and moderate-income people who can't afford to use a lawyer.
Responsive Law pointed out that UPL laws exist on top of consumer protection laws, so the broad scope of UPL restrictions is redundant with respect to protecting consumers, and exists primarily to protect lawyers. To make sure the UPL laws are serving consumers, not lawyers, Responsive Law specifically recommended changing the UPL law so that no UPL action may be taken when legal services are provided for free, and so that any UPL lawsuit requires a consumer complaint and proof of consumer hrm.
Responsive Law also urged the commission to consider allowing non-lawyer staff at non-profits to provide legal services. Nonprofits are the perfect avenue to provide low cost legal services, as they usually specialize in offering community services in one area, making them experts on it. These nonprofits operate in the areas where there is the most unmet legal need, such as housing and domestic issues, and could provide their clients with understanding of the law as it pertains to these specific issues. The large range of expert nonprofit organizations in DC could provide assistance with their extensive knowledge of how the law pertains to these areas, giving advice to the people they already serve without cost or for very cheap. Furthermore, there is very low risk of consumer harm when nonprofits offer legal assistance in an area that is consistent with their missions. Nonprofits are not focused on making a profit; they are specifically focused on the interests of their constituencies, which would provide much of the consumer protection that UPL laws are ostensibly meant to provide. The current UPL laws keep knowledgeable people from being able to give free assistance to members of their community. Keeping nonprofits from being able to share their expert knowledge with the people they already serve only maintains the access to justice gap.
Responsive Law also highlighted several other types of legal help beyond lawyers that would help incress access to justice. One service Responsive Law asked the commission to consider is a version of the U.K.'s McKenzie friends, who are volunteer or low cost non-lawyers who provide guidance to unrepresented litigants in court. They provide moral support, help with case papers, give advice on courtroom conduct, and sit with the consumer while in front of the judge, giving litigants the confidence and assistance they need to navigate the complex court system. Responsive Law also suggested licensing new types of legal professionals that provide limited legal services, similar to the Washington State LLLT program. However, Responsive Law recognizes that the high barriers to becoming an LLLT in Washington State keep that program from providing the fullest potential of consumer help, and recommended a model with a lower licensing bar that would allow more people to be able to offer this kind of legal service.
Our comments to the commission can be read here.
Bridgette Harrison is a Responsive Law intern.
Ilene Seidman of Suffolk University Law School recently wrote a column about a paradox of supply and demand in the legal field: lots of people who can’t afford legal help and lots of recent law grads working as baristas. Her column highlights the benefits of law-school based incubator programs teaching law students about the business end of law so that they can use technology to be on the cutting end of practice upon graduation. Suffolk University’s program teaches “innovative approaches” to students them to start their own firms or join small firms serving average-income people by teaching new technologies, marketing skills, process management and business through cross-training.
These incubators provide valuable opportunities for law students interested in opening their own firms, and are able to make some difference in bridging the access to justice gap. However, a more successful approach to closing the justice gap is to allow outside investment in law firms. Training law students as managers, business owners, and entrepreneurs, can be valuable, but allowing corporate-run law firms would allow people who have studied business disciplines to take on those roles and let the law students do what they went to law school for: serving clients through the practice of law. If lawyers are taking on the management side of the firm as well as working with clients, their skills are spread thin and they are unable to help as many consumers as they would be able to if they focused strictly on providing legal services. Outside investment would allow firms to offer law on a consumer scale that small and solo law firms are unable to offer.
Legal startups have been slow to develop because of the requirement that capital for innovation come only from lawyers. Allowing outside investment would allow a new model of legal services to arise: the mass-market consumer law-firm, which could allow millions of Americans to affordably and accessibly navigate the legal system. Mass-market consumer law would also help provide recent law school grads with training, employment, and opportunities for internal advancement. Startups bring innovation to markets. However, due to restrictions on non-lawyer investment, legal service startups that employ lawyers to provide services to the public cannot seek the investor funding that allows innovation in other fields to flourish. For these startups, it’s not enough to have a business model that could reshape the legal industry—they must also contort their financial structure to avoid non-lawyer investment and fee sharing.
If lawyers want to run a small firm, we should, of course, make that option available to them, and incubators do a wonderful job of enabling them to do so. However mass-market consumer law firms would do a far better job of making lawyers available to the masses, and they can only exist if outside investment is allowed.
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.
Responsive Law Urges ABA Commission to Act Boldly in Recommending New Types of Legal Service ProvidersWritten by Bridgette Harrison
Last week, Responsive Law issued comments to the American Bar Association asking it to support new categories of legal service providers (LSPs) that could expand the types of services non-lawyers may offer consumers. In October the ABA’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services sought advice on alternative LSPs in an effort to expand access to justice. Responsive Law provided insight on how to offer more affordable legal services by cutting down on regulation that limits the types of services non-lawyers can provide.
Responsive Law urged the Bar to push for the creation of more non-lawyer LSPs as the most effective way to close the access to justice gap. Response Law highlighted the fact that pro bono work and legal aid—often the bar’s tools of choice in providing legal assistance to those with unmet legal needs—are insufficient to remedy the problem. Only a greater variety of non-lawyer LSPs can create a sustainable solution. Although the creation of non-lawyer LSP programs in states such as Washington, California, and New York are a step in the right direction, the limitations on how these LSPs can offer assistance keep them from being able to meet a significant portion of the unmet need. Responsive Law recommended loosening unauthorized practice of law (UPL) restrictions and more narrowly defining what qualifies as practicing law in order to expand the kind of services that non-lawyer LSPs are able to provide, including offering assistance in court and giving legal advice.
Responsive Law pointed to the Limited License Legal Technician (LLLT) program in Washington State as a step in the right direction which may be unnecessarily limited in its reach. The program has only been in existence for roughly six months, but the strict requirements to become a LLLT appear to be a large barrier to the program. The combination of education, experience, and exams required to become a LLLT rival those that lawyers themselves face. Responsive Law recognizes the necessity of stringent requirements to maintain a high level of standard for all LSPs, but quality assurance should come from primarily from existing consumer protectionism laws. More regulation from the bar, however well intended, only serves to keep barriers to affordable legal help in place and protect lawyer profits.
Responsive Law turned to European countries to provide examples of successful non-lawyer LSP programs that face low regulation and have more freedom in the types of services they may provide. In the Netherlands, England, and Wales, there are a variety of LSPs, including non-lawyer legal professionals, who may give advice to those navigating the legal system. A study of England and Wales indicated no difference in the quality of legal services between these alternative LSPs and lawyers.
Responsive Law lastly asserted that the Commission should recommend right-sizing regulation of LSPs to remove barriers that keep the cost of legal services high and unattainable for many. We also called for shifting the authority to create and monitor new LSPs from judiciaries to legislative and executive branches in each state. There are antitrust concerns when an industry is controlled by members of its own profession instead of objective state supervision, as the U.S. Supreme Court made clear in its recent decision in North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. FTC. Industry members may act in ways that further their own interests, leading to limited consumer choices and increased prices.
Our full comments to the Commission can be read here.
Bridgette Harrison is a Responsive Law intern.
Responsive Law has just released its Report Card on Barriers to Affordable Legal Help. The report card grades all 50 states and the District of Columbia on how their regulations regarding the practice of law restrict consumer access to the legal system. Unfortunately, the news is not good, with no state receiving a grade higher than a C.
The report card graded three areas:
- barriers to affordable help from lawyers (45% of total grade),
- barriers to affordable help from non-lawyers (40%), and
- support for self-represented litigants (15%).
Barriers to Affordable Lawyer Help
The first area the report card graded was Barriers to Affordable Lawyer Help.
Non-Lawyer Ownership of Law Firms
Most of this grade was determined by whether the state allows non-lawyer ownership. Non-lawyer ownership of law practices would allow innovation and economies of scale that don't exist in the current law firm model. Nearly all consumer law firms—those that offer services in areas such as estate planning, family law, housing, employment, and consumer disputes—consist of fewer than ten lawyers. At this scale, legal services are still very individualized. Furthermore, lawyers in such a small firm have to spend much of their time on marketing and management, rather than on the practice of law.
Allowing non-lawyer ownership would permit the creation of mass-market consumer law firms that could use their scale to mechanize much of the most common legal work. They could also keep lawyers out of both rote legal matters and management and marketing, reserving their high-cost labor for legal oversight and review and for thornier legal questions. All of this would significantly reduce the price of a lawyer.
Unfortunately, with only a couple of very minor exceptions, non-lawyers are not allowed to have an ownership interest in a law firm in the U.S. On the other hand, in England and Australia, non-lawyer ownership is permitted and regulated to protect consumers from any potentially adverse impact on clients. As a result, people in those countries have access to a wider range of reasonably-priced consumer legal services, on Main Street or in the mall.
Other Regulations Affecting Affordable Lawyer Help
The other areas making up the Barriers to Affordable Lawyer Help grade were what type of advertising restrictions are placed on lawyers, whether consumers can hire lawyers from other states, and whether consumers are allowed to use "unbundled" legal services (hiring a lawyer for just part of their legal matter).
Restrictions on lawyer advertising often leave consumers with limited ways to find out about lawyer services. In a Yelp economy, they leave consumers stuck with an archaic model where the bar's recommended way to find a lawyer was to ask for a referral from a friend at the country club.
Restrictions on multijurisdictional practice unnecessarily restrict consumers' options based on an outdated notion that being admitted to the bar in a state has a high correlation with knowledge of that state's law. In a national economy where much of the law is identical from state to state—and where lawyers' skill is as much in finding the law as in knowing it off the top of their heads—it's irrational to prevent a Tennessee lawyer from handling a legal matter in New Jersey, particularly if the Tennessee lawyer is an expert in the particular area of law at issue. Canada has taken a much more progressive approach to multijurisdictional practice by adopting a National Mobility Compact, which allows a lawyer admitted to practice in one province to practice fairly easily in another province.
One area that most states do fairly well in is in allowing limited scope, or "unbundled" legal services. For example, in most states, a person can prepare their own documents for a court appearance while hiring a lawyer just to represent them in court. Our report card analyzed whether states provided enough assurance to lawyers that they could offer these unbundled services without getting dragged into representing the client on a wider basis. Fear of getting dragged beyond the agreed-upon scope of representation is one of the reasons lawyers don't offer unbundled services more frequently.
Because of the great weight given to whether states allow non-lawyer ownership of law firms, almost every jurisdiction received a grade of D. (The lone exception was the District of Columbia, which allows non-lawyer ownership under extremely limited circumstances, and which received a C.) If England and Australia were states, they would have received grades of A due to their more progressive approach to non-lawyer ownership.
Barriers to Affordable Non-Lawyer Help
The second area the report card graded was Barriers to Affordable Non-Lawyer Help. In other words, does the state allow consumers to use service providers other than lawyers to help them with matters that may be considered legal in nature?
Laws Restricting Non-Lawyer Help and Enforcement of Those Laws
First, we analyzed what the state's law says about the types of services that require a lawyer. Specifically, we looked at various ways in which competent non-lawyers could provide help (such as document preparation, financial advice, real estate closings, contract negotiations, and free advice from friends and family) and researched whether state law allowed or prohibited people from getting non-lawyer help for such activities. State laws range from draconian prohibitions to ambiguity, with few laws specifically allowing non-lawyer activity. The ambiguity in these laws is almost as bad as a prohibition, as a service provider is unlikely to offer a service that exists in a legal gray area.
Second, we analyzed the level of enforcement of unauthorized practice of law (UPL) restrictions. In other words, how often does the state prosecute this offense, what resources do they put towards prosecutions, and who is doing the prosecuting? States in which the attorney general has sole responsibility for prosecuting UPL were graded more harshly than those in which the state bar plays a significant role. In the former situation, UPL prosecutions are more likely to be undertaken in the public interest; in the latter they are more likely to be undertaken for anticompetitive reasons.
Grades in this area ranged from a B for Washington and 16 other states to an F for Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio. Washington is noteworthy in that it has just issued the first licenses for limited license legal technicians, or LLLTs. LLLTs are individuals with paralegal training who are licensed by the state to provide information and advice in family law matters, akin to the role of a nurse practitioner in medicine.
The states with the lowest grades earned them on the basis of overly aggressive UPL enforcement by the bar. For example, Florida has a $1.8 million budget for UPL enforcement that it has used for activities such as pursuing charges against a senior citizen who helped a fellow parishioner complete workers compensation forms.
Again, the low grades that most states received stand in stark comparison to more consumer-friendly countries. England, which licenses a wide range of non-lawyer service providers, would have received an A in this category. Australia would have ranked behind only Washington.
Treatment of Self-Represented Litigants
The third area the report card graded was court treatment of self-represented litigants. In other words, we wanted to know how easy it was for people to resolve disputes without a lawyer. We based grades in this area on the Justice Index, published by the National Center for Access to Justice at Cardozo Law School.
This grade took into account whether court forms and procedures are understandable to the average person, whether judges and court staff are trained to assist self-represented litigants, and whether courts have internal processes to monitor and review their treatment of such litigants. Hawaii was first in this category with an A grade; Mississippi was last with an F.
State Bars Have Yet To Comply with the Supreme Court's Dental Examiners Decision
Most of the obstacles to better access to the legal system stem from the fact that state bars frequently create rules governing the delivery of legal services without adequate oversight from the elected branches of government. When any group of professionals sets its own governing rules for the profession, its tendency is to favor itself at the expense of outsiders. Thus, established lawyers are likely to set rules that favor lawyers operating according to the status quo over outsider lawyers who may have revolutionary ideas about how to innovate the profession. And lawyers are likely to set rules that block competition from non-lawyers, no matter how competent their services and how much the public needs them.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year in North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. FTC that professionals are not exempt from antitrust laws when they act without adequate oversight to limit competition. We hope that our report card will shine some light on state bars' continued reluctance to adhere to this principle. We also hope that it will demonstrate the desperate need of most Americans for affordable legal help and the failure of the organized bar to allow them to receive it.
Friday, November 6 is Love Your Lawyer Day. On this day, according to the American Lawyer Public Image Association (ALPIA), we should refrain from telling lawyer jokes and from “lawyer bashing.”
Responsive Law has never told lawyer jokes (although, speaking as a lawyer myself, the profession could certainly have a thicker skin about them), but we’ve probably been accused of lawyer bashing a few times. However, our disdain is not for lawyers as a profession, but for the system of unchecked self-regulation that allows lawyers to prevent competition and innovation that could benefit consumers.
So, on Love Your Lawyer Day, if you’ve used a lawyer and were happy with their services, feel free (as ALPIA suggests) to send your lawyer flowers, or make a donation to charity in their name. (Responsive Law would be an appropriate recipient!) But also ask your lawyer a couple of questions:
- Do you feel that you, as a lawyer, are the only professional who is competent to help me with legal matters?
- Do you believe that lawyers should only work under the supervision of other lawyers, and should not provide services to the public through a company with non-lawyer ownership.
If the answer to the first question is yes, you may want to hold off on that floral arrangement. Your lawyer wants to prevent you from using paralegals, financial planners, and a host of other less expensive professionals to address problems that the bar considers the exclusive domain of lawyers.
And if the answer to the second question is yes, you may want to make that charitable donation in someone else’s name. Your lawyer is standing in the way of innovation that could allow companies like Walgreens, Costco, or Sam’s Club (not to mention startups that are currently a glimmer in someone’s eye) to use economies of scale and better business practices to provide you a lawyer at a fraction of the $200/hour it costs you now.
After taking back your flowers and rededicating your charitable gift, ask your lawyer what he thinks of the Supreme Court’s February 2015 decision in North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. FTC. In this case, the Court held that a profession may not use its regulatory power to prevent competition unless the profession is adequately supervised by the state. Responsive Law field a brief in this case telling the court about how state bar associations do exactly this, filing complaints against non-lawyer competitors for the unauthorized practice of law.
Some would call our Supreme Court brief lawyer bashing. But we’d prefer to think of it as supporting consumers. Lawyers are no worse (and no better) in their ethics than any other profession. But they participate in a system that allows them to set their own rules, without public input.
So, on this Love Your Lawyer Day, ask your lawyer one more question:
3. Will you tell your state bar to abolish rules that solely protect lawyers’ interests, and to instead make rules that increase public access to legal help?
To be fair, some of the lawyers out there already are doing this. We’d like to send virtual bouquets to all the lawyers who have spoken out against the lawyer monopoly and in favor of innovation in the delivery of legal services. Thank you for being part of the solution, not part of the problem!
Unfortunately, many state bar associations are dominated by old-school lawyers who don’t want to change a system that has benefited them for decades, even if it’s at the expense of the public. Not only are those lawyers not going to get flowers from us, but we will continue to fight them until the public gets the affordable, accessible legal system it deserves.
If that’s lawyer-bashing, then Responsive Law is certainly guilty of it. But removing an entrenched monopoly from its anti-consumer perch is more important than the hurt feelings of a few lawyers.