A major US law firm is suing the justices of three New York State federal courts in a bid to drive through liberalisation. In papers filed on 18 May in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, specialist personal injury firm Jacoby & Meyers argued that the ban on non-lawyer involvement – an entrenched US tradition – is out of date and unconstitutional. The actions follow previous NewLegal Review coverage indicating that non-lawyer involvement in the US legal sector is closer to becoming a reality.
Citing innovations such as legal services outsourcing (LSO – also known as legal process outsourcing, or LPO), Jacoby & Meyers argued in its papers that the US approach to non-lawyer stakeholders is incompatible with wider developments in the legal industry. The firm stresses: ‘It cannot credibly be disputed that advancements in technology, the proliferation of online business and outsourcing to global markets are having a profound effect on the practise of law in the 21st Century, and on lawyers’ ability to ensure that quality legal services remain available to all.’
In the firm’s view, it is ‘axiomatic’ that access to capital ensures access to the civil justice system – particularly for disenfranchised or economically challenged clients. ‘Indeed,’ it wrote, ‘the American Bar Association’s Commission on Ethics 20/20 is currently soliciting comments on alternative business structures (ABS) for the practise of law and has specifically inquired whether such changes would “enhance access to legal services for those otherwise unable to afford them.”’
Jacoby & Meyers pointed out that Australian and British legislators have come to recognise that rules barring non-lawyer ownership ‘are antiquated and negatively impact the practise of law’ – highlighting Australia’s 2004 Legal Profession Act and the UK’s 2007 Legal Services Act as key examples of progressive thinking. ‘The inexpensive infusions of capital now available to Australian and British law firms,’ it wrote, ‘give those firms distinct competitive advantages in practising law in an ever-increasing, global legal marketplace.’
Among the firm’s constitutional points, it is seeking an order declaring that local procedure rules preventing non-lawyer ownership violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment ‘by discriminating against attorneys’ abilities to finance their businesses, as compared to other, unencumbered professionals’.
For the New Jersey example of Jacoby & Meyers’s lawsuits, please download the PDF at the link below