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California Bar Task Force Weighs in on Utility of Legal Tech Tools

There are more than 320 digital legal tools designed for use by non-lawyers in the U.S., but access to justice expert Rebecca Sandefur says the potential for the technologies to assist Americans with their civil justice problems has largely gone unrealized.

“Most of the tools that exist right now are neither efficiently scalable nor legally empowering, but there’s no reason it has to stay that way,” Sandefur said this week.

The associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was speaking during a Monday meeting of the State Bar of California’s Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Legal Services.

The 23-member panel is charged with “identifying possible regulatory changes to enhance the delivery of, and access to, legal services through the use of technology, including artificial intelligence and online legal service delivery models.”

Sandefur told the group that one promising digital legal is JustFix, a free app that allows tenants in New York to notify their landlord of issues needing repair.

The app has a tenant go through a room-by-room checklist and upload photos, as well as other information, to document habitability problems. The tool then uses a lawyer-approved template to send a certified letter to the tenant’s landlord outlining the concerns that need to be addressed to comply with housing codes.

“There are very few things like this, but obviously there is a lot of potential here to work on specific problems in a focused way,” Sandefur said.

She said one reason there are not many effective tools was developers’ fears of facing unauthorized practice of law allegations.

“Right now, the reason most of these tools are terrible is because there are deep concerns in the community of developers that you are going to go after them if they create a tool like JustFix that does something useful because it’s nudging up against the edge of giving legal advice,” Sandefur said.

She said those fears were being driven by one of two things: either the developer community does not have a proper understanding of what constitutes legal advice, or the restrictions on unauthorized practice of law are too stringent.

If the bar task force determines California’s unauthorized practice of law regulations are too restrictive, Sandefur encouraged the panel to carefully consider ways to relax them so that tools helping consumers with their civil justice problems “can be useful, as well as used.”

Task force member Lori Gonzalez said she certainly would like to see the bar make it easier for non-attorneys to innovate in the legal tech space.

Gonzalez noted that lawyers “by personality are abnormally adverse to risk, which is the opposite of what you need to be an entrepreneur or to push innovation.”

The task force is charged with reviewing the consumer protection purposes of the prohibitions against unauthorized practice of law (UPL) and “the impact of those prohibitions on access to legal services with the goal of identifying potential changes that might increase access while also protecting the public.”

The panel is also examining alternative business structures, multidisciplinary practice models, lawyer advertising, and fee splitting. The task force is slated to submit its final recommendations to State Bar’s Board of Trustees by the end of 2019.

Sandefur said the discussion at the task force meeting left her encouraged about the group’s efforts, and she told the panel they had a terrific opportunity to make a nationwide impact in this arena.

“If California does something good, it helps a whole lot of people,” Sandefur said. “But it’s also a great model for the rest of the country, so I’m delighted that you are starting to work on this.”


*This article first appeared on Evolve the Law

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Independent Review of UK Legal Services Regulation Launched

The Centre for Ethics and Law in the UCL Faculty of Laws is undertaking a fundamental review of the current regulatory framework for legal services, led by Honorary Professor Stephen Mayson.

The independent review is intended to explore the longer-term and related issues raised by the 2016 Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) market study, which concluded that the legal services sector is not working well for individual consumers and small businesses, and that the current regulatory framework is unsustainable in the long run.  It called for a review of that framework to make it more flexible as well as targeted at areas of highest risk where regulation is most needed.

The review’s objectives will be to consider how the regulatory framework can best:

  • promote and preserve the public interest in the rule of law and the administration of justice;
  • maintain the attractiveness of the law of England & Wales for the governance of relationships and transactions and of our courts in the resolution of disputes;
  • enhance the global competitiveness of our lawyers and other providers of legal services;
  • reflect and respond flexibly to fast-changing market conditions being driven by innovation and advances in technology;
  • protect and promote consumers’ interests, particularly in access to effective, ethical, innovative and affordable legal services and to justice; and
  • lead the world in proportionate, risk-based and cost-effective regulation of legal services, consistent with the better regulation principles.

The review will reflect these objectives and consider how we can best ensure that our legal services remain of high quality and are effective, and that their regulation is proportionate and fit for purpose.  It will also need to re-examine how to give the public much-needed transparency about the legal providers they use and the services they pay for, and ensure that they understand their options and the consequences of their choices.

The first two working papers are already published.  Each of the working papers will address the issues and challenges raised by the four fundamental questions of the review:

  • Why should we regulate legal services? (Rationale)
  • What are the legal services that should be regulated? (Scope)
  • Who should be regulated for the provision of legal services? (Focus)
  • How should we regulate legal services? (Structure)

In pursuing its work, the review will seek to engage with a wide range of stakeholders and interested parties, including the CMA, the Legal Services Board, approved regulators, front-line regulators, representative bodies, consumers, the judiciary, practitioners, and providers of legal education and training.

It is now open for submissions in response to the working papers, and for meetings and discussions to explore the issues: to follow up, contact Professor Stephen Mayson.

Read more at the University College London Independent Review of Legal Services Regulation page.

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An Australian Study on Lawyer Vulnerability & Legal Misconduct

Vulnerability to Legal Misconduct: Qualitative Study of Regulatory Decisions Involving Problem Lawyers and Their Clients

An emerging body of scholarship discusses ‘vulnerability’ as an antecedent of legal misconduct. One conceptualization of vulnerability indicates that an individual has greater susceptibility to risk of harm, and safeguards may protect against that risk of harm. This empirical study adds to the normative research with a qualitative analysis of 72 lawyers with multiple complaints and at least one hearing, paid financial misconduct claim, or striking from the roll (“problem lawyers”) in Victoria, Australia, between 2005 and 2015 through 311 regulatory decisions. We found that problem lawyers were disproportionately likely to be male, over age 45, and work in a sole or small practice. A quarter of these lawyers suffered from health impairments and among the clients harmed, half had cognitive impairments, were older age, or non-native English speakers. These findings underscore the need to better understand vulnerabilities to promote lawyer well-being, protect exposed clients, and reduce lapses in professionalism.

Access Full Report Here

Authors: 

  • Tara Sklar, University of Arizona – James E. Rogers College of Law
  • Jennifer Schulz Moore, University of New South Wales (UNSW) – Faculty of Law
  • Yamna Taouk, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health
  • Marie M Bismark, University of Melbourne

California probation materials

These materials were presented at the 2016 International Conference of Legal Regulators.

Session title: I always feel like somebody’s watching me: reinstatement and supervision of lawyers on probation

This paper includes the standard conditions and a compliance declaration.

California probation materials

Missouri reinstatement questionnaire

These materials were presented at the 2016 International Conference of Legal Regulators.

Session title: I always feel like somebody’s watching me: reinstatement and supervision of lawyers on probation

Missouri reinstatement questionnaire

New Mexico reinstatement materials

These materials were presented at the 2016 International Conference of Legal Regulators.

Session title: I always feel like somebody’s watching me: reinstatement and supervision of lawyers on probation

Reinstatement questionnaire

Supervising attorney agreement

Delaware reinstatement questionnaire

These materials were presented at the 2016 International Conference of Legal Regulators.

Session title: I always feel like somebody’s watching me: reinstatement and supervision of lawyers on probation

Delaware reinstatement questionnaire