Should there be an Aspen Dental equivalent for lawyers? Task force backs rule changes
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"Antiquated" legal ethics rules are interfering with access to justice and a more sustainable legal profession, according to a bar association task force.
The Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct have to be reimagined to give solo and small firm lawyers expanded opportunities to attract new clients in need of legal help, according to a July 22 report by the Chicago Bar Association and the Chicago Bar Foundation Task Force on the Sustainable Practice of Law.
“A healthy legal profession and improved access to justice for the public are not opposing concepts; they are inextricably related and represent two sides of the same coin,” the report says.
One task force recommendation would allow lawyers to pay a portion of their legal fees to “intermediary entities” that have the ability to build brands that reach the consumer legal market. The entities could also provide business and administrative services.
The entities would have to register with a new regulatory board and would have to meet certain standards. The entities could not interfere with the lawyers’ professional independence.
Bob Glaves, executive director of the Chicago Bar Foundation, told Law.com that intermediary entities are already allowed in the dental profession, where small practices have affiliated with Aspen Dental.
“If you just want to be a dentist and practice your craft, you can affiliate with this larger network at different levels,” he told Law.com. “It takes some degree of fee-sharing to be able to do that. But this idea gives lawyers the ability to affiliate for the other types of expertise you need to succeed in today’s world.”
Other task force recommendations include:
• Allowing lawyers to provide technology-based products to help meet the demand for legal services through an “approved legal technology provider.” The provider could be owned in whole or in part by nonlawyers.
• Recognizing licensed paralegals who can provide expanded services to legal consumers while working under the supervision of a lawyer.
• Streamlining confusing legal advertising rules to focus on the core principle that lawyers should refrain from making false, misleading, coercive or harassing communications.
• Expanding the rules on limited scope representation to allow lawyers to participate in technology-based legal solutions and to streamline the process for limited-scope court appearances.
• Creating a community justice navigator to help the public identify legitimate sources of legal information and to connect people to lawyers and other appropriate forms of legal help. The web-based information hub would be similar to resources provided to the public by the IRS.
• Giving the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct a “plain language overhaul” that also rethinks “overly prescriptive or unnecessary regulatory provisions.”
• Evaluating whether broader changes are needed to relax limits on outside ownership of law firms. “a majority of the task force believes that preventing people who are not attorneys from having an ownership stake in law firms is unduly stifling innovation and preventing solo and small firm lawyers from reaching the scale necessary to reach the consumer legal market,” the report says.
The bar task force is the first bar group with a voluntary membership to back regulatory reform, according to Law.com.
ABA Journal (2016): “SCOTUS antitrust ruling against dentists raises questions about lawyers’ regulatory structures”
ABA Journal (2015): “Dental board ruling may drill into state bar associations’ immunity”