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Is Non-Attorney Ownership in Law Firms Signaling the End for Solo/Small Firms?

Posted by Nima Asadi | Jun 23, 2023 | 0 Comments

If non-attorneys are permitted to perform certain legal functions, won't that strip attorneys of work they eagerly seek? If non-attorneys are able to invest or otherwise partner with lawyers in law firms, is the demise of several solo/small firms the likely result, or will it at least put a severe dent in their survival? By now, many are aware that the State Bar of California is considering fundamental changes to the practice of law based upon a task force's (Access Through Innovation of Legal Services or “ATILS”) recommendations. Whenever disruption or change occurs in an industry, it necessarily invites questions of fear or concern. In modern history, never before have non-attorneys in California been permitted to perform any type of legal work, let alone have any type of fee splitting arrangement. There are rationales supporting such limitations, designed to ensure not just that the lawyer's independent judgement is kept intact, but also that the lawyer's duty of loyalty remains with the client as opposed to some third party who only has a financial stake in the firm. Granted, these reasons remain important, but life has significantly evolved since these prohibitions were put in place. Today's consumer demands access, transparency, and affordability in their legal services. In this article, we focus on not only what the task force and others have shared analyzing why these rules do not spell “doomsday” for solo/small firms, but also how solo/small firms may benefit from them. Instead of assuming such disruption or change will inevitably lead to insurmountable problems, we invite attorneys to take a step back and consider possible scenarios, which may challenge us to appreciate these newly created opportunities for consumers, other purchasers of legal services, and even attorneys, too

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