Regulators are poised to consider radical rule changes that could decisively open the way to allowing non-lawyers into the legal profession of the US’s most populous state.
The State Bar of California voted earlier this month to accept a report from legal academic Professor William D. Henderson calling for structural reforms to the way the market is regulated. The bar’s board of trustees further resolved to authorise a taskforce to study and come back with recommendations for reforms that balance the goals of public protection and increased access to justice.
The taskforce proposals – not expected until 2019 – could pave the way for a version of the alternative business structure regime in the UK and Australia, allowing a system where non-lawyers are able to own law firms and legal businesses are able to take on external capital investment. Despite repeated attempts to encourage liberalisation in the US – and not withstanding sporadic examples of legal markets opening to outsiders – the US profession has overwhelmingly resisted emulating England and Wales.
In his report, Prof Henderson cited the problem of ‘lagging legal productivity’ and that, in contrast to medical care and higher education, a growing proportion of US consumers are choosing to forgo legal services rather than pay a higher price.