July 01, 2020 The Big Ideas Issue

Re-Regulating Legal Services

There is a growing consensus that the legal system is simply not working for the majority of our population. Is legal regulatory reform the answer?

Ben Lehnardt and Anna E. Carpenter
Many heads in profile are made out of paper and laid out in tessellation. One stark red paper profile blowing a whistle stands out against the rest.

Many heads in profile are made out of paper and laid out in tessellation. One stark red paper profile blowing a whistle stands out against the rest.

via WildPixel / iStock / Getty Images Plus

State supreme courts and bar associations across the United States are considering significant changes in the ways legal services are regulated. Utah is leading the regulatory reform movement with a recently announced “regulatory sandbox” that will test innovative new ways of delivering legal services. Several other jurisdictions, including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Oregon, New Mexico, Florida, Virginia and Washington, D.C., are formally considering regulatory changes that will impact the legal services market. The latest change comes from California, where the State Bar of California Board of Trustees recently voted in favor of creating a regulatory sandbox akin to Utah’s. The American Bar Association House of Delegates and the Conference of Chief Justices recently issued resolutions encouraging more consideration for regulatory reform in states across the country to increase access to justice. If this momentum is any indication, it is likely many more U.S. jurisdictions will soon consider making changes to the regulations that govern how legal services are delivered.

States studying reform are looking at a variety of ways to change traditional rules of professional conduct and re-examine restrictions on the unauthorized practice of law. Changes under consideration include authorizing new types of legal service providers, altering rules governing the unauthorized practice of law, and lifting restrictions on fee-sharing and ownership of law firms by people who are not lawyers. Reformers argue that these changes will open up the legal market, increase innovation and ultimately make legal services and the justice system more accessible and affordable.

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