Category Archives: Non-lawyer ownership of law firms

Utah Supreme Court approves pilot program to permit non-traditional legal services, including non-lawyer firm ownership

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the unanimous Utah Supreme Court approval of a pilot program to permit non-traditional legal services, including non-lawyer firm ownership.  The report of the Utah Work Group on Regulatory Reform titled Narrowing the Access-To-Justice Gap by Reimagining Regulation is here:  https://www.utahbar.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/FINAL-Task-Force-Report.pdf

In an opinion dated August 29, 2019 (which is not yet published), the Utah Supreme Court voted unanimously to approve the recommendations of the work group which called for “profoundly reimagining the way legal services are regulated in order to harness the power of entrepreneurship, capital, and machine learning in the legal arena.”

The work group proposed the creation of a new structure in Utah for the regulation of legal services that would provide for broad-based investment and participation in business entities that provide legal services, including non-lawyer investment in and ownership of these entities.  The report stated that this goal should be achieved in two ways:

  1. Substantially loosening regulatory restrictions on the corporate practice of law, lawyer advertising, solicitation, and fee arrangements, including referrals and fee sharing and;
  1. Simultaneously establishing a new regulatory body, under the supervision of the Supreme Court, to advance and implement a risk-based, empirically-grounded regulatory process for legal service entities.

The Utah Supreme Court’s approval of the recommendations begins the first stage the report’s recommendations, which includes the creation of an implementation task force that will establish the new regulatory body as a pilot program that will be in place for about two years. The regulatory body will work with the Utah State Bar, which will continue to maintain its authority over lawyers and licensed paralegal practitioners (LPPs) and regulate non-traditional legal services which is not currently allowed under Utah’s rules.

Stage one of the plan also includes the creation of a “regulatory sandbox” which will be managed by the new regulating body, and will allow a limited market of non-traditional legal entities to provide legal services in the state. According to the report, “The goal is to allow the Court and aspiring innovators to develop new offerings that could benefit the public, validate them with the public, and understand how current regulations might need to be selectively or permanently relaxed to permit these and other innovations.”

The report also requested the Supreme Court to order three changes that would allow the pilot to operate as part of the first stage, including:

  1. Creation of the regulating body as an implementation task force of the court and delegate regulatory authority to set up and run the regulatory sandbox;
  2. Establish that providers approved to participate in the regulatory sandbox are not engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in Utah; and
  3. Establish that lawyers will not be subject to discipline for entering into business with or otherwise providing services with providers in the sandbox.

The court has not issued a written order and a Utah Supreme Court Justice who was on the Task Force stated that he expects the court to issue a press release soon providing further details.

As I previously blogged, the Utah Supreme Court previously approved Limited License Practitioner Rules which became effective November 1, 2018 and the first LLPs in Utah were expected to be licensed in 2019.  This makes Utah the most recent state to license non-lawyers to practice law and will allow LLPs practice without a lawyer’s supervision in three areas, including matters involving temporary separation, divorce, parentage, cohabitant abuse, civil stalking, custody and support, and name change, matters involving forcible entry and detainer, and debt collection matters in which the dollar amount in issue does not exceed the statutory limit for small claims cases.  LLPs will not be permitted to appear in court on behalf of a client.

Bottom line:  This is a very significant step toward the acceptance of non-traditional and non-lawyer practice in Utah and in the United States.  All of the states which have approved such rules are in western states, so far.  The beat goes on…stay tuned.

Be careful out there. 

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2999 Alt. 19, Suite A

Palm Harbor, Florida

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Please note:  My office has moved and the new office address is 2999 Alt. 19, Palm Harbor, FL 34683.  All other contact information remains the same.

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

 

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Filed under 2018 Utah rules permitting non-lawyer legal practice, 2019 Utah pilot program permitting non-traditional legal services, including non-lawyer firm ownership, Attorney Ethics, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer sharing fees with non-lawyers, Non-lawyer ownership, Non-lawyer ownership of law firms, Non-lawyer practice of law, Non-lawyer practicing law, Uncategorized

Proposed Florida Bar Advisory Opinion finds that lawyers may share fees with lawyers in firms owned with non-lawyers

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss Proposed Florida Bar Advisory Ethics Opinion 17-1 (June 23, 2017) which states that Florida Bar members may divide fees with out of state lawyers who are members of law firms which have nonlawyer ownership as permitted in the jurisdiction where the law firm is located.

The proposed ethics opinion is here:  https://www.floridabar.org/news/tfb-news/?durl=%2Fdivcom%2Fjn%2Fjnnews01.nsf%2F8c9f13012b96736985256aa900624829%2Fda5da7932958bb6a852581560062520c.  The proposed opinion is not final.  See below for details and opportunity to comment.

One of the issues that Florida lawyers who wish to co-counsel with out of state lawyers face is whether the lawyer can share fees with other lawyers who are members of law firm with non-lawyer owners as permitted in that jurisdiction.  Non-lawyer ownership of law firms is currently permitted in Washington, D.C. and the State of Washington in the U.S., the Canadian provinces Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec, the countries of England, Wales, Scotland, Germany, the Netherlands, Brussels, and New Zealand.

The Professional Ethics Committee was asked by the Florida Bar’s Board of Governors to opine on whether Florida lawyers are permitted divide fees with out-of-state lawyers who are members of law firms in which there is nonlawyer ownership because nonlawyer ownership is allowed in the jurisdiction where the other law firm is located.  The proposed opinion found that such fee sharing “in accordance with Florida rules, law, and ethics opinions does not violate the prohibition against fee sharing set forth in Rule 4-5.4.” (emphasis supplied)

According to the proposed ethics opinion,

“Florida Bar members frequently work with lawyers outside their firms in representing clients. Florida Bar members also co-counsel cases with lawyers who are admitted solely in jurisdictions outside of Florida. Lawyers admitted solely in jurisdictions outside Florida are authorized to provide legal services in Florida under limited circumstances. Co-counselling with out-of-state lawyers thus raises potential concerns regarding assisting in the unlicensed practice of law and improper division of legal fees. Florida Bar members may divide fees with lawyers from other jurisdictions only where the out-of-state lawyers are providing legal services to the same client that the out-of-state lawyers are authorized by other law to provide and only in compliance with Florida Bar rules. See, Rules 4-1.5(g), 4-5.4(a), 4-5.5, and Florida Ethics Opinions 90-8, 88-10, and 62-3.

“Florida Bar members are prohibited from partnering or sharing legal fees with nonlawyers. See, Rule 4-5.4. Most U.S. jurisdictions share a similar prohibition. The only United States jurisdictions that currently permit nonlawyer ownership of law firms are Washington, D.C. and Washington state. Nonlawyer ownership of law firms is permitted in Canadian provinces Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec, England, Wales, Scotland, Germany, the Netherlands, Brussels, and New Zealand.

“Requirements and limitations on nonlawyer ownership vary in jurisdictions that allow it.

“This opinion addresses Florida Bar members in co-counseling and dividing fees with out-of-state lawyers with whom the Florida Bar members are permitted to divide fees as noted above, and in which the out-of-state lawyers practice in law firms with nonlawyer ownership as permitted by the other jurisdiction.

“The committee is of the opinion that sharing fees with an out-of-state lawyer in accordance with Florida rules, law, and ethics opinions does not violate the prohibition against fee sharing set forth in Rule 4-5.4. A Florida Bar member should not be subject to discipline merely because a nonlawyer ultimately may receive some part of the out-of-state lawyer’s fee solely by virtue of being an owner of the out-of-state law firm. The Florida Bar member has no control over the organization and ownership of the out-of-state firm. The out-of-state law firm may be organized in accordance with the rules of its own jurisdiction. The fact that the nonlawyer ownership would not be permitted in Florida should not impact what the out-of-state lawyer is permitted to do under the rules of that jurisdiction. To opine otherwise unnecessarily places Florida Bar members at risk and deprives clients of counsel of their own choosing from other jurisdictions.

“Other jurisdictions that have addressed the issue have reached similar conclusions. See, ABA Formal Opinion 464 (2013); New York City Bar Formal Ethics Opinion 2015-8 (2015); and Philadelphia Bar Association Ethics Opinion 2010-7 (2010).

“ABA Formal Opinion 464 also cautions lawyers that they:

. . .must continue to comply with the requirement of Model Rule 5.4(c) to maintain professional independence. Even if the other law firm may be governed by different rules regarding relationships with nonlawyers, a lawyer must not permit a nonlawyer in the other firm to interfere with the lawyer’s own independent professional judgment. As noted above, the actual risk of improper influence is minimal. But the prohibition against improper nonlawyer influence continues regardless of the fee arrangement.

“The committee agrees with and adopts the reasoning of the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility in formal opinion 464 above.

“Finally, the committee notes that this opinion does not address a Florida Bar member becoming a partner, shareholder, associate, or other formal arrangement in a law firm that is permitted to have nonlawyer ownership in its home jurisdiction and does so in compliance with the rules of its home jurisdiction. Neither does this opinion address the issue of a Florida Bar member who also is admitted to practice in another jurisdiction where nonlawyer ownership is permitted joining a law firm with nonlawyer owners under the rules of the other jurisdiction.”

___________________

1Alternative Law Business Structures ABA Issue Paper (April 5, 2011) available at:http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/ethics_2020/abs_issues_paper.authcheckdam.pdf.

Bottom line:  This ethics opinion finds that sharing fees with lawyers who are members of law firms which have non-lawyer ownership does violate not the prohibition against fee sharing set forth in Florida Bar Rule 4-5.4; however, the opinion is not final.

According to the Bar’s Notice:

“Pursuant to Rule 4(c) and (d) of The Florida Bar Procedures for Ruling on Questions of Ethics, comments from Florida Bar members are solicited on the proposed opinion. The committee will consider any comments received at a meeting to be held in conjunction with The Florida Bar’s Fall Meeting at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, October 13, 2017, at the Tampa Airport Marriott. Comments must contain the proposed advisory opinion number and clearly state the issues for the committee to consider. A written argument may be included explaining why the Florida Bar member believes the committee’s opinion is either correct or incorrect and may contain citations to relevant authorities. Comments should be submitted to Elizabeth Clark Tarbert, Ethics Counsel, The Florida Bar, 651 E. Jefferson Street, Tallahassee 32399-2300, and must be postmarked no later than 30 days from the date of this publication.”

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19, N., Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

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ABA adopts Resolution 105 encouraging states to consider non-traditional legal service providers, including non-lawyer firm ownership

Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the American Bar Association’s February 8, 2016 approval and adoption of Formal Resolution 105, which adopts the ABA Model Regulatory Objectives for the Provision of Legal Services.  The Final ABA Resolution 105 as Revised and Adopted is here: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/images/abanews/2016mymres/105.pdf

According to the ABA website, Resolution 105 “(a)dopts the ABA Model Regulatory Objectives for the Provision of Legal Services, dated February, 2016 and urges that each state’s highest court, and those of each territory and tribe be guided by the Model Regulatory Objectives when they assess the court’s existing regulatory framework and any other regulation they may choose to develop concerning non-traditional legal service providers.” https://www.americanbar.org/news/reporter_resources/midyear-meeting-2016/house-of-delegates-resolutions/105.html

The ABA Resolution calls for the adoption of “regulatory objectives for the provision of legal services” that would help “identify and implement regulations related to legal services beyond the traditional regulation of the legal profession.”  With the exception of the District of Columbia, no jurisdiction in the U.S. permits non-lawyer ownership of law firms (although the United Kingdom and some U.K. commonwealth countries do permit it).

The arguments for non-lawyer ownership of law firms include that it would expand consumers’ access to legal services, encourage innovation, and reduce the cost of legal services; however, the Resolution has drawn criticism.  The arguments against non-lawyer ownership include that it would encourage profit making (and taking) over serving clients and the public.

According to a Wall Street Journal “LawBlog” article (quoting AmLaw Daily)”:

(T)he mere mention of “non-traditional legal service providers” raises hackles for some in the ABA. The Texas state bar board, for example, has asked Texas delegates to withhold their support for Resolution 105.  State bar president-elect Frank Stevenson II of Locke Lord said the board opposes the proposal because it seems to presume there’s a place for non-lawyers to provide legal services.”

The LawBlog article also states that “(t)he New York State Bar Association is also fighting against the resolution, saying it would open the door to nonlawyer firm ownership. ‘Nonlawyer ownership of law firms creates a whole new set of fiduciary responsibilities, which have nothing to do with the best interests of the clients we are duty-bound to serve,’ the state bar’s president, David P. Miranda, said in a statement.”

Bottom line: This is has been, and continues to be, a very controversial issue; however, there does not seem to be much support for non-lawyer ownership of law firms in Florida or other jurisdictions.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement and does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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