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ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 Issues Discussion Paper on Alternative Law Practice Structures

ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 Issues Discussion Paper on Alternative Law Practice Structures

By Brian Graupner

CHICAGO, Dec. 2, 2011 — The American Bar Association Commission on Ethics 20/20, consistent with its promise to provide opportunities for input, has published for comment a discussion draft with cover memo relating to alternative law practice structures. The discussion draft relates to a limited form of court-regulated, nonlawyer ownership of law firms, similar to that permitted in the District of Columbia.

The model discussed in the draft would allow individual nonlawyers to have a financial interest in the firm for which they work, but would require the following restrictions:

  • The sole purpose of the law firm must be the delivery of legal services;
  • Services provided by nonlawyers must be limited to assisting the lawyers in the delivery of those legal services;
  • Lawyers must be responsible for assuring that conduct of nonlawyers is consistent with the lawyers’ obligations under the Model Rules; and
  • Nonlawyer owners could not have their own clients or offer nonlegal services to clients independent of the legal services provided to clients of the firm.

Additional restrictions include that the:

  • lawyers maintain the controlling financial interest and voting rights in the law firm; and
  • lawyers investigate the professional reputation of nonlawyers before permitting them to have a financial interest in the firm. The firm would be required to maintain a record of that investigation.

The commission encourages comments by late January if possible, but if not, it will accept responses through Feb. 29, 2012.

The ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 was created in 2009, and charged with performing a thorough review of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct and the U.S. system of lawyer regulation in the context of advances in technology and global legal practice developments. The commission’s priorities and initiatives are listed here.

Learn more about the Commission on Ethics 20/20, its mandate and its membership here.

With nearly 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.

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