2020 ILS Virtual Annual Meeting – Non-Lawyer Ownership of US Law Firms: A Train that Can’t Be Stopped?
This ethics panel will address non-lawyer ownership of US law firms and how ABA Model Rule 5.4 relating to lawyer independence in terms of fee sharing and non-lawyer ownership applies to alternative business structures in the legal services industry in various jurisdictions. The underlying problems of new structures and whether they should be allowed will be discussed.
For years, only Washington, DC permitted non-lawyer ownership of US law firms. With increased attention focusing on the justice gap and the advent of new technology, and the integration of global law firms, traditional ideas regarding the justification of non-lawyer ownership has come under challenge. Other jurisdictions, most notably the United Kingdom, have adopted alternative business structures. The original underlying rationale has been lawyer independence. Recently, however, Utah has moved forward towards recommending non-lawyer ownership, and other jurisdictions, such as California, have been studying the issue. If the changes are made, what are the practical and ethical considerations for the practice of law? Are we facing a sea-change or just an evolutionary adaptation to the current realities? How should lawyers (and clients) prepare themselves?