By James W. Riley Jr.
The advertising campaigns of AVVO and LegalZoom have attracted consumers who want to use a DIY approach on legal matters or to confer with a lawyer for a nominal charge. Lawyers believe that these legal document and service providers are not serving the interests of clients because of concerns about the “core values” of the legal profession — competence, independence of professional judgment, attorney-client privileged communications, protection of confidential client information, loyalty to clients through the avoidance of conflicts of interest, and pro bono publico commitments. Bar associations, including the Indiana State Bar Association, have acted to address the situation. ISBA President Carol Adinamis appointed the Future of the Provision of Legal Services Committee (“Future’s Committee”) to examine challenges to the profession from legal document and service providers and advances in technology.
Many Indiana lawyers struggle today to find jobs in the legal profession and many who are practicing law struggle to find clients to represent. Meanwhile, many Hoosiers with legal problems view hiring a lawyer as impractical. This mismatch hurts both lawyers and unrepresented clients. Some of these clients simply cannot afford to pay a lawyer. Others opt not to hire one. Lawyers must make the case for the value of having a lawyer and find ways to deliver legal services clients can afford and are willing to pay for. Lawyers must also adapt by continuing to use developing technologies to serve their clients by working better, faster, and cheaper.
After careful investigation and study, the Future’s Committee therefore made four recommendations for immediate action:
1. Coordination of a public education campaign. The ISBA should adopt and promote new ABA campaign materials that will be provided to inform the public of the important core values of the legal profession and the advantages of hiring a lawyer to handle legal problems rather than going it alone or working with unlicensed and unqualified non-lawyers. Special consideration in this effort must be given to using social media that is proving to be incredibly effective as a means of promoting ideas.
2. ISBA law practice management staff position. The ISBA should create a law practice management consultant staff position to support Indiana lawyers in their use of technology and other tools effectively to provide client services in a more efficient, competent and ethical manner, and at a reasonable cost. The ISBA Technology and Law Practice Management committees can support this effort.
3. Non-lawyer equity interests in law firms. The Rules of Professional Conduct should be amended to permit non-lawyers to own not more than 49 percent of the equity of a law firm. In addition, minority, non-lawyer ownership should be non-voting to ensure that the lawyer’s independence is not compromised. Lawyers in such firms would continue to be subject to all of the rules requiring absolute loyalty to clients. An equity investment in a law firm need not impinge on a lawyer’s independence any more than a law firm’s indebtedness, which is permitted. This would provide lawyers with access to resources to acquire the technology that can improve their practices and client services.
4. Pro se coordinators in courthouses. The state should provide and pay for a coordinator for unrepresented civil litigants in each Indiana county. After a civil case is filed in a court by a pro se plaintiff or a pro se defendant makes an appearance, the coordinator will contact and encourage the pro se party to have a consultation. During the consultation, the coordinator will inform the party of the practices, procedures and applicable rules of the court. The coordinator will not provide legal advice to the party, but will inform the party of the risks of proceeding without an attorney. The coordinator also will maintain a list of lawyers or referral programs available to assist or coordinate assistance to these parties on either a pro bono or full or reduced fee-for-service basis, should a party request counsel or obviously need counsel’s assistance. This effort is not to encourage pro se litigants, but rather to manage the crisis confronting our courts.
The Board of Governors has approved the Report and Recommendations of the Future’s Committee that is available on the ISBA website www.inbar.org/resource/resmgr/carissa/Futures-Report-2016.pdf and is contained in the July/August 2016 issue of Res Gestae. The Report and Recommendations will be presented to the House of Delegates for action at the ISBA Annual Meeting on Sept. 30. This will follow the very timely Annual Meeting Plenary Luncheon on the Future of the Legal Profession Sept. 29, which will feature a panel of speakers including officers of AVVO and LegalZoom. That is sure to be an event that many Indiana lawyers will want to attend. Tickets are available through Sherry Allan, firstname.lastname@example.org.•
James W. Riley Jr. is of counsel at Riley Bennett & Egloff LLP and the chair of the ISBA Future’s Committee. This column is taken in part from the Report and Recommendations of the committee. The opinions expressed are those of the author.