Attorney Ethics Counsel

February 22, 2016

Should Non-Attorneys Be Permitted to Practice (Some) Law?

Attorneys and bar associations nationwide are grappling with a few hard truths about the current practice of law.  The legal profession is a highly regulated profession, including strict requirements for any person to be authorized to practice law.  Among other things, you have to go to law school (mostly) and take and pass the bar exam for any particular jurisdiction, or otherwise be admitted after a detailed moral and character review.  This regulation is designed in part to ensure that the public is protected from unscrupulous counsel, who could prey on the most vulnerable among us at the times they are most vulnerable.  Unfortunately, this high level of attorney regulation also may have the effect of limiting meaningful access to lawyers for a vast swath of the public who could benefit from counsel.  Is the high level of regulation for attorneys, intended to protect the general public, appropriate if it means that the vast majority of the general public could never afford a lawyer?

The legal profession is addressing this question, and attempting to answer it.  In California, the Limited License Working Group is addressing “the feasibility of developing and implementing standards for creating a limited license to practice law and/or the licensing of legal technicians, for those not fully admitted to the State Bar as attorneys” which would “enable certified individuals to provide limited, discrete legal services to consumers in defined legal subject matter areas.”  The American Bar Association recently approved Resolution 105, the ABA Model Regulatory Objectives for the Provision of Legal Services, which sets out 10 objectives for jurisdictions to consider if and when they consider “non-traditional legal providers,” such as those who might be permitted a so-called limited license to practice law.

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