Long time readers of this blog know that one of the most debated issues in the past few years involves the question of whether the regulation of the profession should be reformed to allow lawyers to provide services in alternative business structures and whether to allow non-lawyers to provide some types of legal services.
You also know that the ABA continues to hold the position that lawyers should not be allowed to partner with non lawyers for the provision of legal services and that Utah and Arizona recently decided to take measures to depart from this traditional view.
What we do not yet know very well, however, is what effect have the regulatory changes in those states have had as it relates to the goal of providing more, better and more affordable access to legal representation.
Well, for those of you interested on the topic, more information is now available. Stanford Law School’s Rhode Center on the Legal Profession has drafted a report on the issue. The report, Legal Innovation After Reform: Evidence From Regulatory Change, is available here.
The report concludes, among other things, that the regulatory changes in Utah and Arizona are generating innovation in the ownership structure of legal services providers, which is not surprising since that was the idea to begin with.
This is a good thing, but on whether the other important goal has been met, the information is not so clear, nor consistent between the two states.
The main argument for broad regulatory reform is always that it will lead to more and better "access to justice", by which we really mean access to legal representation. But the experience in other states has shown that for varied reasons, the economics of the matter don't always lead to this result. Regulation that has opened the door to more service providers does not always result in lowering costs, and by extension, to more access to representation for those who can't afford it.
The new report has some data that suggests that the regulatory changes in Utah has resulted in more access than the changes in Arizona, and it is not clear (to me at least) that either has resulted in significantly more access to poor individuals.
None of this is to say that the regulatory changes should be rejected; I am only saying that we may need to think more about ways to achieve the goal of access to affordable representation.
You can read a comment on the report here.