Written by Tom Gordon
A member of the North Carolina Senate has introduced a bill that would promote the delivery of innovative legal services. Senate Bill 254 would allow non-lawyers to own a minority stake in law firms. As we mentioned in our previous post, outside investment in law firms could provide them the capital they need to innovate and find ways to serve consumers better. Some lawyers have claimed that non-lawyer ownership could compromise their ethical duties to their clients or to the courts. However, the bill would protect consumers by warning non-lawyer owners that duties between shareholders do not trump duties to clients. If passed, the bill would be a first step toward helping the legal profession join the rest of the economy in providing integrated and innovative services. We urge the North Carolina legislature to pass SB 254 and encourage other states to introduce similar legislation.
Tom Gordon is Executive Director of Responsive Law.
A recent survey found that 60 percent of British consumers would consider buying legal services from a nationally known brand such as Barclays or Virgin. Although we know of no comparable study for American consumers, we expect that their preferences would be similar. Unfortunately, legal ethics rules prevent non-lawyers from having an ownership interest in a law firm, preventing national brands from taking root in the US. This prohibition is unfortunate, not because large non-lawyer corporations would necessarily provide better legal services than law firms, but because outside investment could be the key to making legal services available to the general public.
A recent New York Times article describes advances that allow computers do much of the work lawyers do in complex litigation where there are millions of documents and emails that need to be reviewed before trial. But computers can also help simplify everyday legal matters such as wills, divorces, and bankruptcies.