Yes, I’d Like to Think Utah is Taking My Advice

Back in January, 2018 I wrote a post titled  “What SHOULD Attorney Advertising Regulation Look Like?”

In that post — one of many in my long string of railings against the inanity of the attorney ad rules — I made my pitch plain:

So let’s gut the Rules. We can start by just flat-out eliminating – entirely – Rules 7.2, 7.4, & 7.5. I’ve never heard a remotely compelling argument for the continued existence of these Rules; they are all just sub-variations on the theme of Rule 7.1.

I would be lying if I said that at the time I wrote those words I had any optimism that a state would take this suggestion seriously — at least within my lifetime. But shockingly, this is almost exactly what the Utah Supreme Court has proposed doing: the complete elimination of Rules 7.2 – 7.5. 1

In that post I also proposed that Bars adopt controlled regulatory tests:

I know that we as lawyers are trained to “spot issues,” but this training drives way too much tentativeness. Instead of applying the precautionary principle – REGULATE NOW, IN CASE THE BAD THINGS HAPPEN – Bars could try controlled tests.

Say a Bar has gotten a question about an innovative product like Avvo Legal Services. Instead of agonizing for 6-12 months over the potential RPC implications, the Bar could – gasp – have a quick talk with the provider and make a deal: the Bar would explicitly let attorneys know it’s OK to participate, if the provider agrees to feed the Bar data on engagement, complaints, etc.

There would also be the understanding that it would be a time-limited test (enough time to get data sufficient to understand consumer impact) and that the Bar could pull the plug early if results looked super-ugly. A process like this would actually IMPROVE the Bar’s ability to address real consumer harm, while smoothing the road to innovation.

Utah? They’ve created a “regulatory sandbox” — where innovations in legal services delivery, including partnerships with non-lawyers — can be tested empirically rather than being squelched out of the gate. That’s exactly what I had in mind.

Just three years ago, Utah was part of the chorus of head-in-the-sand Bars reflexively telling its members that the modest, consumer-friendly innovation that was Avvo Legal Services couldn’t possibly comply with their Rules. 2

Now they’re leading the charge on making real change to the regulations that are holding back consumer access to justice.

While I’d like to think that Utah was persuaded by my advocacy in this area, what’s really important is that a state is actually doing something about the very real problem of regulatory cruft. 

Comments on these proposed changes are open until July 23, 2020. The usual reactionary voices will surely weigh in with their “sky is falling” rhetoric — it would be great if those who support this kind of meaningful regulatory change let the Utah Supreme Court know they are absolutely on the right track.

Notes:

  1. In fact, Utah is going even further than what I had proposed, eliminating Rule 7.3 (attorney solicitation) and incorporating its central tenants into a new section of Rule 7.1 prohibiting coercion, duress, or harassment when interacting with prospective clients.
  2. Utah State Bar Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 17-05.

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