Long time readers of this blog know I have been following the different task forces around the country considering sweeping changes to the way the practice of law is regulated and practiced. The more common denominators in that discussion are proposed changes to allow non-lawyers to provide certain types of legal services and changes to Rules that ban lawyers from sharing fees with non-lawyers. (I recently reported on California's proposal (here and here) and later posted on the report that California's task force has received a mixed bag of comments (some negative, some positive) on its proposals, for example.
But,while California and Arizona are busy trying to work through their proposals, Utah has surprised everyone by acting much faster.
So, today I am reporting that the Utah Supreme Court has unanimously approved pursuing the recommendations of a task-force report on legal reform, including allowing non-lawyers to share fees in legal operations.
You can read the task force's report here (or here).
The report proposes the creation of a new structure for the regulation of legal services that would allow lawyers to seek investors from outside the profession including non-lawyer investment in and ownership of law firms. The report stated that this goal should be achieved in two ways: (1) substantially loosening regulatory restrictions on the corporate practice of law, lawyer advertising, solicitation, and fee arrangements, including referrals and fee sharing and; (2) simultaneously establishing a new regulatory body, under the supervision of the state's Supreme Court, to advance and implement a risk-based, empirically-grounded regulatory process for legal service entities.
If approved, this proposal would be a tremendous change for the notion of professional regulation and it is likely to be influential around the country.
However, even though the Court approved the proposal unanimously, proposals like this one are never without opponents. In fact, the ABA itself has been very slow to adopt changes to allow the practice of law by non-lawyers and the sharing of fees with non-lawyers.
The Utah report comes on the heels of recommendations by a State Bar of California task force to make sweeping changes in the lawyer regulatory structure in that state. These moves and others signal increasing recognition by bar officials in the U.S. that addressing the justice gap will require significant changes in the regulation of legal services.
For more information and comments go to:
Law Sites, here and here
Lawyer Ethics Alerts Blog
Faughnan on Ethics