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LawBiz® TIPS – Week of November 19, 2013

LawBiz(r) newsletter

The 50th anniversary of one of the most tragic public events in my lifetime is upon us. I was walking out of a final exam into an empty law school hallway when I heard someone utter the news. My immediate response was, "Don't kid around about something like that." For the first time, I remained glued to the television screen as the country buried its "young knight in shining armor." Would he have been a great president? We will never know. But, it was clear that the youth and energy he conveyed to our population, and the world, was snuffed out. With the subsequent deaths of Rev. King and Robert Kennedy, a pall was cast upon our country.

Post-traumatic stress can be experienced by those watching repetitive showings of the tragedy. We experienced that with the 9-11 tragedy. With all the networks filling the airwaves with one perspective after another, I am feeling some of the same PTS that I experience those many years ago... except worse, because we have so many more media outlets that need to have their say on the subject.

The times they are a-changin'.
Ed signature

Are Non-Lawyers the Next Wave of Competition?

The legal establishment in at least three states is encouraging the creation of a class of non-lawyer legal practitioners who would compete with licensed lawyers. These efforts have as their stated purpose making legal services more available and affordable to those who need assistance. . As reported in various stories on the Access to Justice blog:

  • The Washington State Supreme Court has approved a rule creating non-lawyer legal technicians. These technicians must have paralegal training, and can do such things as inform clients about procedures and anticipated course of a legal proceeding, provide clients with self-help materials, and review or explain legal documents.

  • A task force of the New York State Bar has recommended implementation of a pilot program to permit appropriately trained non-lawyer advocates to provide out-of-court assistance in specific substantive areas of the law to low-income New Yorkers who have current or potential legal problems.

  • In California, the State Bar Board of Trustees has expressed interest in examining a limited-practice licensing program that would create a new class of professionals who could give legal advice to the public while allowing law students and others who haven't passed the bar to put their skills to use.

Of course, this begs the question of all the other low cost avenues for such assistance now available, from court-appointed lawyers, to pro bono programs by law firms and legal access groups, to legal clinics staffed by law school students. But there is yet another dimension in which the ethical gatekeepers are signaling that non-lawyers may become a new competitive branch of legal services. In August the American Bar Association said it was softening its stance on fee sharing with non-lawyers, handing down new guidelines that allow law firms to indirectly split fees with outsiders. The ABA's Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility committee said it would be acceptable for law firms to split fees with other lawyers or law firms practicing in jurisdictions that have more relaxed rules on using non-lawyer services. Such situations come up when multiple firms are working together and billing a single client.

Add to these developments the ongoing litigation over whether law firms can have non-lawyer owners (last year the Second Circuit remanded such a case back to the district court in New York that has rejected it, implying strongly that the non-lawyer ownership prohibition could be challenged), and it is clear that non-lawyers may well strongly impact legal services competition.

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Are Non-Lawyers the Next Wave of Competition?

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"I felt 'stuck,' but I didn't know how to market myself to clients or to other firms. Ed provided a solid rounding of me to evaluate my current situation and a platform from which I could start growing my own practice."

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