Saturday, May 18, 2013

To improve the legal profession, allow non-lawyers to regulate it

That's the message of Professor James E. Moliterno of Washington and Lee University in an interview with the Wall Street Journal Law Blog in which he says that non-lawyers should be allowed to serve in leadership and regulatory positions with the ABA.  The WSJ was interviewing Professor Moliterno in connection with his forthcoming article in the Emory Law Review called The Trouble with Lawyer Regulation.  In that article, Professor Moliterno agues that the American legal profession has been "a backward looking, change resistant institution. It has failed to adjust to changes in society, technology, and economics, despite individual lawyers’ efforts to change their own practices and entrepreneurs’ efforts to enter the legal marketplace." The solution, he says, is to allow non self-interested outsiders a shot at fixing a broken system.  As he tells the WSJ blog

“Lawyers still function on the state-by-state licensure system. A lawyer cannot walk across the line from Ohio to Pennsylvania and engage in law practice,” Mr. Moliterno tells Law Blog, as an example. “We would either move to a national law license or a very relaxed form of admission-on-motion system, allowing lawyers to much more freely cross borders.”

He also predicts a relaxing of the rules that require law firms to be owned by lawyers. At the moment, the District of Columbia is the only U.S. jurisdiction that allows non-lawyer ownership, according to an ABA news memo from last year. The prohibition stems from concerns about confidentiality and independence. The ABA declined to comment on Thursday.

“If there were some nonlawyer ownership of law firms, or more generally legal services delivery, the owners would find it in their business interests for the lawyers to have insurance and follow the ethics rules,” said Mr. Moliterno, who just wrote a book on a similar theme.

The professor also predicts that non-lawyers would encourage the growth of legal services geared toward middle and low income people. “Entities like LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer would flourish rather than be sued for unauthorized practice of law. Much more creative systems of service delivery would be pioneered without the resistance of the legal profession,” he said.


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