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A divided American Bar Association House of Delegates approved Monday a group of model regulatory objectives for states to use if they choose to develop or expand nontraditional legal services.
The ABA House of Delegates meets at the ABA Midyear Meeting in San Diego
The final vote on Resolution 105 was adopted through a voice vote after a rigorous debate of nearly two hours. While setting out broad principles, such as protection of the public, transparency of services and delivery of affordable and accessible legal services, the proposal was criticized for encouraging delivery of legal services by nonlawyers and companies not guided by principles of the legal profession.
The proposal was one of more than two dozen resolutions approved by the House of Delegates, which determines association-wide policy, at the ABA Midyear Meeting in San Diego. The resolution drew about 45 requests to speak on behalf of the resolution and another 35 against it although most waived the right to speak.
The resolution acknowledges the new developments in the legal marketplace and sets out 10 regulatory principles to guide each state’s highest court as it assesses existing regulatory frameworks and any other regulations related to non-traditional legal service providers.
“We must embrace change in terms of how it will help the public that we are sworn to serve,” said Judy Perry Martinez, who chairs the ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services. She added the resolution is “neutral” to the concepts of alternative business structures and fee splitting.
The proposal has drawn opposition from a range of state and other bar associations, as well as solo practitioners and small firms which see Internet legal alternatives as competition and services fall short of all ethical considerations. A proposal to reaffirm ABA policy against nonlawyer ownership of law firms was added to the initial proposal, and drew near unanimous support.
David P. Miranda, president of the New York State Bar Association, was the first to speak against the resolution, suggesting it opens “the door to tacit approval” of nonlawyer services. “Resolution 105 is a step backwards,” he said. “The guidelines fail to reaffirm the core principles of our profession.”
The issue pitted former ABA presidents against one another. William C. Hubbard, who established the futures commission during his presidency in 2014-15, spoke for it as did past ABA President Tommy Wells (2008-09). The motion of Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III (2011-12) to indefinitely table the resolution failed 191-276.
In closing for the proponents of the resolution, former ABA President Robert Grey (2004-05) said the resolution provides a “framework for us to offer guidance for the leadership, development and practice of law in this country for the foreseeable future.”
In other action, the House approved:
A list of approved final resolutions, which reflect new ABA policy, can be found here.