“Get Rid of UPL?”

The ABA Journal reports that Mark Britton – Avvo’s CEO, and my boss – told the ABA House of Delegates that bar regulators need to “get rid of UPL” and embrace innovation.

If you read the comments on the piece, you’ll note that Mark’s sentiment was not warmly or widely embraced.

That’s to be expected of the defensive members of my conservative and sometimes hidebound profession. Change is scary and unsettling.

But something’s got to give. There continues to be a massive disconnect between lawyers and the potential clients out there who could use their services – if only the bars could get out of the way and seriously consider:

  • Allowing non-lawyer ownership of law firms, so that talented non-lawyers could import from other industries the innovations, merchandising, and customer service orientation so lacking in the practice of law.
  • Significantly carving back the definition of “the practice of law” so that non-lawyers could provide a much wider range of straightforward legal-related services.
  • Removing artificial geographic constraints, so that attorneys could more freely find and serve their clients, regardless of physical location.

This is not to say that there aren’t questions and concerns that arise with any of these suggestions. The professional independence of lawyers must be protected, deception and shoddy services must be rooted out, and competency to practice within a jurisdiction’s courts must be maintained.

But it starts with having a real discussion about whether the current structure of overreaching UPL restrictions serves any of these ends well.

Are we really protecting consumers and the integrity of the legal system, or are we just trying to maintain a monopoly? As lawyers, we’re really good at pointing at the problems and potential risks in taking action. But the problems stemming from inaction are just as real. And we’re feeling them in spades as the legal services market becomes increasingly inaccessible – and irrelevant – to the vast majority of the public.

 

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