We recently commented on the ABA's Ethics 20/20 Issue Paper on Alternative Businesss Structures which examines, for example, whether lawyers should be allowed to partner with nonlawyers or to raise money from investors. You can read them here.
We recently sent the Wisconsin Supreme Court our suggestions for how it could best support Limited Scope Representation (or "unbundling"), which is a new form of legal representation that would allow lawyers to advise clients on only selected elements of a legal matter. You can read our comments here.
We recently weighed in on the ABA's new proposed rules for allowing lawyers to practice across state lines. You can read them here.
Mark Childress was sworn in yesterday as the White House's Access to Justice Advisor, succeeding Laurence Tribe, who left last fall due to health problems. The Washington Post describes Childress as a "savvy Washington operator" who played a major behind-the-scenes role in the enactment of health-care reform and in handling federal judicial nominations. While Professor Tribe has left some large shoes to fill, we are pleased that the administration has chosen a serious political player as his replacement. We hope that Childress will quickly put those skills to use on behalf of the majority of Americans who lack meaningful access to the legal system.
A Kentucky woman convicted of unauthorized practice of law will be appealing (subscription required) the $5,000 fine handed down by the Kentucky Supreme Court for her actions. Della Tarpinian operates what she describes as a scrivener service. Her customers, who need someone to prepare simple legal documents for them, fill out questionnaires which Tarpinian uses to complete fill-in-the-blank legal forms. Document preparation services are licensed and regulated in states such as California and Arizona, providing clear guidelines as to what services non-lawyers may provide. In other states, however, vague definitions of the practice of law leave the legality of these services in a gray area. As a result, consumers do not have the benefit of a robust marketplace providing document preparation services.
Tarpinian has been prosecuted for UPL once before. In 2004, a jury took 15 minutes to acquit her of UPL charges. However, her current conviction did not come as the result of a jury trial, but as the result of findings made by a special commissioner appointed by the Kentucky Supreme Court. However, one thing missing from both the opinion of the Supreme Court and the findings of the special commissioner is a finding that any consumers were harmed as a result of Tarpinian's services. We would venture that the jury in her 2004 case similarly failed to find that Tarpinian caused any harm to her customers, resulting in her rapid acquittal. Unfortunately, in the current case, the bar has made the assumption that provision by non-lawyers of services related to law is by its nature harmful to consumers. This assumption is clearly incorrect, as proven by Tarpinian and the hundreds of licensed document preparers in other states. Whatever the letter of the law may say about whether someone is engaging in UPL, prosecutors and bar associations should decline to bring charges without a showing of consumer harm. To do otherwise is a waste of prosecutorial resources, a miscarriage of justice, and a blow to consumers.