Whether nonlawyers should have ownership roles in law firms has been and remains a hotly debated topic. The debate concerns potential reforms to Rule 5.4 of the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which sets guidelines for maintaining the professional independence of lawyers, as well as the impact of those revisions on the legal profession. Although advocates for such reform argue that nonlawyers must be allowed ownership roles in law firms in order to foster innovation and increase access to legal services, many lawyers have raised significant concerns about the impact that nonlawyer ownership would have on the independence of lawyers. Lawyers have concerns about allowing nonlawyers—who have not sworn to uphold the ethical obligations that attorneys promise to uphold when becoming members of the bar—to have decision-making authority in the day-to-day practice of law. There is also no evidence that nonlawyer ownership actually improves access to justice for the needy. This Essay argues against rewriting Rule 5.4 to allow nonlawyer ownership of law firms. It concludes that nonlawyer ownership not only fails to solve the problems that advocates of reform promise it will address but in fact creates meaningful risks for the legal profession.
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