At the ABA’s Mid-Year Meeting this past February, ABA Resolution 105 was proffered by the Commission on the Future of the Legal Profession, along with five other committees, and adopted. This resolution, entitled the “ABA Model Regulatory Objectives for the Provision of Legal Services,” urges that each state’s highest court be guided by ten fundamental ethical practice guidelines that emphasize protection of the public. Of some controversy, however, is that the resolution outlines “regulations for non-traditional legal service providers,” which relate to many digital legal assistance portals and non-attorney assistance and guidance programs, such as courthouse navigator programs. That the Resolution contemplated the regulation of non-lawyers, such as limited legal license technicians (LLLT) recently authorized in the state of Washington, drew strong reaction. ABA LRIS Standing Committee Member Stephen Steinberg provided some further background and understanding about this resolution.
Why do you think the ABA’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services put forward this resolution?
I think that the work of the Commission is focusing on what the future of law will be and, as we know, the online legal service delivery models are here and are changing how the public finds lawyers and legal help. One of the advantages that many lawyer referral services enjoy is that they already adhere to a set of standards that protect the public, such as screening their participating attorneys for experience and requiring that they carry malpractice insurance. The public can actually get what they expect to get. Online directories of attorneys and bios have no such objective standards for the lawyers promoted.
Some bar associations have raised concerns that this resolution is sanctioning the practice of non-lawyers, like that of the Limited Legal Licensed Technician in family law, launched in the state of Washington. There, trained, non-lawyers assist with legal paperwork, but can’t go to court. Does this resolution go too far or is it trying to address the lack of regulation for a type of legal service delivery already occurring?
The notion of legal services innovation is now with us, including accessing new services through technology—especially mobile devices. The key will be to watch developments of the digital legal services sphere and stay mindful of the protections needed for the public. It is all too easy to find a list of attorney names on your cell phone, and all too difficult to undo problems later, when the advice or the services obtained were sub-standard. That is why the lawyer referral service model is one to be emulated to best provide the public with quality assistance at affordable rates. So most decidedly, encouraging the regulation of alternative legal service delivery systems is a positive development, and necessary to adhere to principles of consumer protection.