Friday, August 2, 2019

California task force issues report and recommendations on the future of the practice of law

If you are a reader of this blog you know that the legal profession in the United States has been involved in a long standing debate on whether to change a number of important approaches to the practice of law, most importantly on the notion of unauthorized practice of law, sharing fees with non lawyers, allowing non lawyers to provide certain types of legal services and alternative business structures.

Along these lines, about a year ago, the California Bar’s Board of Trustees formed the Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Legal Services to identify possible regulatory changes for enhancing the delivery of, and access to, legal services.

As I recently reported, a few weeks ago the task force submitted its recommendations for a period of public comment. The recommendations were described as “tentative,” and it is expected they may be revised based on the comments received. A report setting forth the final recommendations is expected to be submitted to the Board of Trustees no later than December 31, 2019.

I have not had a chance to read the recommendations, but according to a report I have read, the recommendations provide a general framework for lawyer regulation reform rather than specific amended language for the ethics rules. However, they do address two of the most debated issues in recent years: restrictions on the unauthorized practice of law by non lawyers and restrictions against fee-sharing reflected in Rule of Professional Conduct 5.4.

For the full text of the task force's report (250 pages) go here.  For a short summary and comment on the recommendations and similar efforts in other states go here.  According to this report, the more important highlights of the recommendations include:

- A recommendation to create exceptions to restrictions on the unauthorized practice of law to allow individuals who are not lawyers to offer certain types of legal services to consumers, subject to state regulation and to allow state-certified/regulated/approved entities to use technology-driven legal services to engage in authorized law practice activities subject to state ethical standards governing both the provider and technology.

- Recommendations intended to remove financial barriers to collaboration between lawyers and other non-lawyer professionals through the modification of rules like Model Rule 5.4.

My Shingle has a short comment on the proposals from the perspective of solo practitioners and small firms.  It explains some of the concerns related to the proposals but in the end concludes that  "[t]hese critiques aside, I strongly disagree that the California initiative will harm solo and small firm lawyers and our clients. To the contrary, the proposed reforms create enormous opportunities for us to develop new services that make our legal services more relevant and convenient to our clients’ lives."

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