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California Bar examines proposal that non-lawyers be permitted to provide legal advice and have a financial interest in law firms

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent proposals of a State Bar of California task force which would, inter alia, permit legal technicians to offer legal advice and also permit non-lawyers to have a financial interest in law firms.  The proposals were approved by the State Bar Board of Trustees on July 11, 2019.

The proposals were developed by the California Bar’s Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Legal Services.  The task force’s proposals would make sweeping changes by modifying the restrictions on the unauthorized practice of law and ethics rules that prohibit fee sharing with nonlawyers and would also permit legal technicians to provide legal advice and practice law.  The California Bar press release announcing the proposals is here:  The California Bar agenda item with the proposals is here:

The proposals would permit non-lawyers to provide certain specified legal advice and services, with the appropriate regulation, and permit entities that provide legal or law-related services to be made up of lawyers, nonlawyers or a combination of the two. The regulations would differ depending upon the type of entity, and also permit lawyers to be part of a law firm in which a nonlawyer holds a financial interest.

The task force proposed two alternatives.  The first would include provisions permitting non-lawyers to provide services that assist the lawyers or law firm in providing legal services, and state that the nonlawyers have no power to direct or control the professional judgment of the lawyers. The other would permit lawyers to share fees with non-lawyers as long as the client provides written consent.

The proposals also would also permit state-approved businesses to use legal technology to deliver legal services.  Regulatory standards governing the provider and the technology would be established and client communications with such entities would be covered by attorney-client privilege/confidentiality.

According to the California Bar press release:  “The State Bar Board of Trustees on July 11 authorized a 60-day public comment period for a sweeping set of regulatory reform options for improving access to legal services, developed by the Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Legal Services (ATILS).”

“Beginning next week, the State Bar will seek written comment from consumers, legal service providers, technology experts, and lawyers as vital input for evaluating the options. The Task Force also plans to hold a public hearing to receive oral testimony. The hearing, to take place on August 10, 2019, at the State Bar’s San Francisco office, is timed to coincide with this year’s annual meeting of the American Bar Association.”

Bottom line:  These California Bar proposals have a long way to go before being potentially implemented; however, if they are eventually implemented, California will be another one of the few states which would permit legal technicians to offer legal advice and the only jurisdiction (other than the District of Columbia) to permit nonlawyers to hold a financial interest in law firms.  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.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

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