Special Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services meets to discuss priorities
The Special Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services, charged by the Supreme Court with examining how law is practiced and its regulatory framework, met July 14 to discuss priorities and how best to conduct the review.
Topics ranged from lawyer advertising to legal education. But most of the interest revolved around how law is practiced and regulations that may need to change to improve a lawyer’s ability to reach consumers and a consumer’s ability to reach lawyers.
Committee Chair and immediate past Bar President John Stewart said the emphasis is to look at changing regulations to make it easier for lawyers to provide services without compromising protections for consumers or lawyers’ professional and independent judgment.
“We’re too tied with what we’ve always done. We’re contributing to the lack of innovation, which is going to wind up hurting people’s pocketbooks,” Stewart said. “If we don’t change our ways, it’s going to become an issue of self-preservation.”
Stewart gave an example of a discussion he had with the general counsel of LegalZoom, an online form provider. Stewart learned the company generally focuses on only a few areas and the company prefers to use lawyers to help consumers fill out its forms because it eliminates errors and the company can charge a higher fee when a lawyer is involved.
Stewart said lawyers benefit because they have access to the company’s technology platform, they learn about customer service, and they make contacts with people who at some point may need additional legal work that can’t be handled by a simple form.
“Lawyers can get a lot of business. They won’t get a lot of money, but they will make contacts…. When the people they helped [with a form] need services not provided online, they know a lawyer to contact,” Stewart said.
Members discussed innovations that can improve the delivery of legal services.
“There is innovation happening all around us and we’re too tied to what we have always done,” said committee member Lanse Scriven.
Sarah Sullivan of Three Rivers Legal Services said the committee “should look at models that already exist and see how [those] work. Is it a problem? Is it infringing on the independence of the lawyer?”
In their broad ranging discussion, committee members said they are open to suggesting Bar rule changes and also pilot projects to test any ideas they generate.
Some members said the committee may want to examine lawyer advertising regulations.
“There are some specific areas in advertising that create an impediment for lawyers to connect with consumers and don’t make sense,” Stewart said. “If you believe lawyers are better educated and better able to serve the legal needs of legal consumers, then why do we disadvantage ourselves in our ability to reach them compared to nonlawyers?”
Committee member Joe Corsmeier, a member of the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers, said that organization, whose members defend lawyers in discipline cases, has similar concerns about current advertising regulations.
The committee’s only action was to vote unanimously to recommend that the Bar better publicize the rules allowing the delivery of unbundled legal services, which many lawyers mistakenly believe only applies in family law cases.
Stewart said he anticipates the committee will meet three times in the next two months, although the dates have not been set. He noted that Arizona, California, and Utah have similar committees that predate the special committee’s effort and he hopes to have one or more members of those panels at the committee’s next meeting.
The committee is set to provide its final report to the Supreme Court by July 1, 2021.