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.
Outside investments could provide lawyers with the capital to pursue innovations in the delivery of their services. It could also allow companies providing services related to legal services to join forces with lawyers to provide one-stop shopping for consumers seeking both legal services and other services related to the same transaction. For example, a consumer could go to one company that could provide financial planning services and also draft her will.
The restriction on non-attorney ownership of law firms stands between consumers and the innovations that could help them obtain legal services less expensively and more efficiently.