Lawyer Regulation: The Root of the Problem

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve left Avvo and am planning my next move (but not before enjoying a glorious Seattle summer!). And while I don’t know whether that move will keep me in the trenches working on innovation in access to justice, I plan on staying involved in these issues.

In 10+ years at Avvo, I’ve become invested. Hell, I’ve become radicalized. I’ve seen firsthand the institutional inertia, malaise, and active hostility deployed against efforts to make our legal system more consumer-centric. So I’ve joined the board of Consumers for a Responsive Legal System in order to contribute directly, regardless of where my career takes me.

Consumers for a Responsive Legal System – or “Responsive Law,” as it’s commonly known – has long been a lonely voice advocating for the consumer when it comes to the regulation of the practice of law. But it’s a critically important voice: we lawyers enjoy self-regulation, but in our regulatory expertise we get so finely-grained and nuanced that we miss the needs of those our profession exists to serve: our clients (and those who would be our clients).

We saddle ourselves with picayune, overly-detailed restrictions on our ability to inform people about the resources available to them.

We insist on archaic, mechanistic payment rules, divorced from the reality of modern consumer finance or purchasing expectations.

We police the edges with the bogeymen of overbroad, unconstitutional, and anti-competitive ethics opinions.

And all along we claim an expansive monopoly on anything smelling like “the practice of law,” effectively foreclosing anyone else who might like to offer a better service.

Despite a decade-plus of handwringing over “access to justice,” we’ve produced little more than calls for more pro bono work. The problem isn’t getting solved until lawyers recognize the source of the problem: our own naval-gazey, lawyer-centric, system of self-regulation. We desperately need to shift the focus to what consumers want, and not be afraid to aggressively scrap those rules that aren’t helping the public.

Responsive Law is working on a variety of fronts to focus the Bars on the needs of consumers. These are messy, state-by-state discussions, and seeing real change is going to be a long slog. But it’s important work that needs to be seen through the inevitable ups and downs along the way.

If you’d like to help Responsive Law in this effort, it’s easy to make a donation¬†here.

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