By Kevin O'Keefe

Veteran legal tech journalist and staunch advocate for access to legal services, Bob Ambrogi wrote this morning:

In the face of these regulatory reforms, the American Bar Association voted today at its annual meeting to send a decidedly mixed message, approving a resolution to double down on its prohibition of non-lawyer ownership, while also amending the resolution to add a nod toward state innovation efforts.

As states seek to find innovative ways to address the access-to-justice crisis, a key component has been eliminating or loosening the prohibition on non-lawyer ownership of law firms. Two years ago, Arizona became the first state to completely eliminate the prohibition. Just two weeks earlier, Utah had approved sweeping changes in legal services regulationthat that allowed non-traditional legal services providers. Other states continue to study the issue.

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Little question the ABA has held tight to its prohibition of both non-lawyer ownership of law firms and lawyers sharing fees with non-lawyers.

At the same time, we’re seeing innovation on the access to legal services and access to justice fronts.

And at a speed we’ve not seen ever before. Young and entrepreneurial lawyers and technicians are developing systems and platforms which are making access to legal services more accessible.

The money and the open software fueling these entrepreneurs has never been greater.

These entrepreneurs are not going to be stopped – no matter whether every detail of their business model or offering is sanctioned by state bar associations or the ABA.

No question states and the ABA have served to slow down companies. Just ask Avvo and Legal Zoom.

But Legal Zoom is still up and rolling and classified by Wikipedia as a publicly traded legal services company (emphasis added). Avvo was sold for reasons other than ethic’s restrictions.

Twenty one years after Legal Zoom’s founding, it’s a new day. Thousands of legal services related and legal technologies companies, aggregately delivering services direct to consumers and businesses and to lawyers scaling legal services as a result.

Some such companies and organizations have been recognized by the ABA at conferences and in publications. The ABA has initiated innovation programs.

Sure, if you read the ABA rules strictly, innovation will be stopped.

In 1996, I took to AOL to answer legal questions from people from coast to coast. I got these folks the names of the best lawyers – by relevant associations. And shared checklists, by various niches, to guide consumers in their screening a lawyer. Consumers knew no better.

Reading the ABA rules and my state’s ethics rules, scared the heck out of me. But being a lawyer meant helping other people on AOL and more. Technology was here.

The ABA is an association of lawyers, law students, academics and the judiciary. While looking to bring access to justice and serve the public interest, the ABA understandably needs to serve its members.

Don’t get me wrong, I have the same concerns that Ambrogi does.

I am just saying that innovation fueled access to legal services and access to justice is moving forward at the same time as the ABA has remained staunch to its position.

Maybe not even in spite of the ABA – a position I have loudly voiced before.

Kevin O'Keefe
About the Author

Trial lawyer turned legal tech entrepreneur, I am the founder and CEO of LexBlog, a legal blog community of over 30,000 blog publishers, worldwide. LexBlog’s publishing platform is used on a subscription basis by over 18,000 legal professionals, including the largest law firm in each India, China and the United States.

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