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Thursday, 09 June 2016 00:00

ABA Commission Raises Prospect of Non-Lawyer Assistance

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The American Bar Association’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services recently released an issue paper on non-lawyer legal service providers (LSPs) and their role in providing consumers with accessible legal help. The purpose of the issue paper was to explore whether a new regulatory system for non-lawyer LSPs was warranted and whether it would improve the quality and availability of legal services for consumers. The Commission seems inclined to proceed with the expansion of non-lawyer LSPs, but is uncertain as to whether it should do so without implementing a new regulatory system for them.

Responsive Law was the only consumer group to submit testimony to the Commission. We believe that non-lawyer legal service providers should be allowed to operate, and that new regulations would not benefit the public. Our testimony concluded that further regulation of non-lawyer LSPs would adversely affect consumers by limiting their ability to get legal help easily and affordably. 

Regulating legal service providers would hinder competition for customers between lawyers and non-lawyer LSPs. This competition benefits consumers because it lowers cost and produces more avenues for them to seek legal help. Responsive Law’s reply mentioned the Washington State Bar Association’s licensing regulations for limited license legal technicians (LLLTs) and the strenuous process that they endure in order to get a license. If the ABA House of Delegates adopts similar requirements, the public’s access to affordable legal services would remain limited despite the copious legal needs of the public.

The Commission expressed concern about non-lawyer LSPs being “unregulated.” However, non-lawyer LSPs do have to follow certain regulations. While a car wash isn’t subject to special car wash regulations, it is still subject to generally applicable laws and regulations that protect consumers. These laws protect consumers from having their windows broken by the car wash operators, or from having the car stolen by them. Similarly, even without additional regulation by the bar, non-lawyer LSPs are deterred from harmful conduct by laws against fraud and other consumer protection regulations. For the Commission to refer to these service providers as “unregulated” isn’t accurate.

Responsive Law’s testimony noted that there is no support for the bar’s frequent assertion that existing non-lawyer LSPs harm consumers—certainly not at a greater rate than lawyers do. As Commission Vice Chair Andrew Perlman noted elsewhere, LegalZoom has operated for 10 years with “no reliable evidence of incompetence.” The nonprofit consumer advice service Call for Action has no reported consumer harm after operating for 53 years. Harvard’s Small Claims Advisory Service, operated by undergraduate students, does not have any reports of consumer harm for the 43 years it has been operational. There are also examples abroad in the United Kingdom where consumers are more satisfied with their experiences with non-lawyer LSPs than those with lawyers. The United Kingdom’s Citizens Advice has helped consumers for over 75 years, and has a 97% consumer satisfaction rating, as opposed to American lawyers, who have a consumer satisfaction rating of 76%. Existing LSPs function with little to no consumer harm reported and maintain satisfactory results without the need for a new regulatory system.

The Commission is expected to release its final proposal on this issue in August.

If you would like to read Responsive Law’s full response, click here.

Morgan Newell is a Responsive Law intern.

Read 2260 times Last modified on Thursday, 09 June 2016 11:50

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