August 27, 2020
The Arizona Supreme Court announced today that it has voted to approve far-reaching changes that it claims "could transform the public’s access to legal services."
The changes come soon after a similar move by the Supreme Court in Utah and may be a sign of things to come around the country.
The most significant changes are the approval of a program to allow some non-lawyers to provide some legal services (similar to the program recently abandoned in Washington) and the elimination of rule 5.4 which bans lawyers from partnering with non-lawyers. This will allow non-lawyers to invest in, and own part of, law firms. A Press Release announcing the changes explains that
The Court approved modifications to the court rules regulating the practice of law, which allows for two significant changes. One change is a licensure process that will allow nonlawyers, called “Legal Paraprofessionals” (LPs), to provide limited legal services to the public, including being able to go into court with their client. The other change is the elimination of the rule prohibiting fee sharing and prohibiting nonlawyers from having economic interests in law firms. With these modifications, Arizona is set to implement the most far-reaching changes to the regulation of the practice of law of any state thus far.
This last statement is definitely true. The debate on whether to allow nonlawyers to invest or partially own law firms has been around for a long time, but this is only the second time any jurisdiction has acted on it. The other was also recently, in Utah. See here.
Of course, the big question is whether the effects of the adopted changes will be positive. The same press release affirms that the new approach adopted by the Court "will make it possible for more people to access affordable legal services and for more individuals and families to get legal advice and help" and "will promote business innovation in providing legal services at affordable prices." Evidently, that was not the case in Washington state where the state's supreme court decided to eliminate its legal paraprofessionals program after it decided it did not have the desired results.
Needless to say, not everyone agreed with the decision to eliminate the program in Washington, and not everyone agrees with the decision in Arizona, so the debate will continue. I am sure there will be multiple updates to this story in the next few days.
You can read the full news release announcing and briefly explaining the recent changes here.
For more information on the new rules adopted in Arizona go the Arizona.gov page on access to legal services.
UPDATE (9/7/20): As expected, there have been a few comments published since the announcement that Arizona will do away with the ban on partnerships with non-lawyers or the provision of legal services. Here are a few links:
Legal Evolution (in which the author considers whether allowing Walmart to offer legal services is an improvement over the way the legal market is currently regulated.)