There are only a few self-regulated industries in the United States, and the legal profession has the distinction of being one of them. The legal profession’s self-regulation has been under scrutiny these past few years, but it is by no means a new concern. Prior to self-regulation, American colonies forbid making a profession out of providing legal services during the 18th century. This ban obviously did not last. The legal profession’s path towards self-regulation started with the creation of the ABA in 1878.

Over the years there has been much debate over whether self-regulation is right for the profession, as well as whether it is the best way to serve the public interest. The problem with our current system is that some of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct that lawyers created to regulate legal services, such as Rules 5.4 (Professional Independence of a Lawyer) and 5.5 (Unauthorized Practice of Law), are rooted in anecdotes based more on fear than fact, and have never been based on data or societal needs. These rules operate by design to constrict the types and amount of legal help one can receive, leaving many potential customers to fend for themselves. Consequently, this regulatory framework is not representative of modern society. If lawyers want to retain their ability to self-regulate the profession, they have an obligation to the people in need of legal services. It is time for lawyers, regulators, courts, and the public to reevaluate the regulatory framework and reform it to meet the needs of all the people it is intended to serve.
Michael Houlberg, Manager
March 2021

February 11: "Majority of US Firms Are Working with ALSPs, With Pandemic Likely Fueling Reliance" on

February 16: "US Legal System Can Benefit From Nonlawyer Ownership" in Law360

February 18: "Alternative Legal Service Providers Are No Longer 'Alternative'" on 2Civility

February 26: "You can lose your kids, home and freedom without ever seeing a lawyer. It's a profound injustice." in The Washington Post

March 5: "IAALS Announces 2021 Rebuilding Justice Award Recipients" on IAALS' blog

March 8: "Permitting alternative business structures could spur tech innovation, Arizona justice says" in ABA Journal

March 12: "All Gas, No Brakes: New Model of Judicial Leadership is Bringing Justice Back Within Reach of the People" on IAALS' blog

March 15: "Non-Lawyer-Owned Firm Set to Launch Out of Utah 'Sandbox'" in Law360

March 15: "Nonlawyer-Owned Law Firm Advising Small Businesses Has National Ambitions" in The American Lawyer

March 15: "Eliminate the Bar Exam for Lawyers" in The Wall Street Journal

Visit our Knowledge Center to track what's happening around the country and the world when it comes to legal regulation, as well as submit information and sign up for notifications.
Last February, IAALS launched the Future of Legal Services speaker series, which brought together perspectives from the legal profession, academy, technology sector, and abroad to discuss the role of regulatory reform in the fight to achieve justice for all. After the COVID-19 pandemic rendered an in-person series impossible, the series went virtual and reached over 400 people across the country. Now, we are pleased to announce we are offering replays of each session this March for CLE credit. We are also pleased to announce a similar series, presented in conjunction with the ABA and Legal Hackers, will begin in 2021—more details coming soon!
March 23 & 24 at 11 a.m. MDT

Dan Rodriguez
, former dean of Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, discusses why our balkanized system of professional regulation makes it much more difficult to meet the demand for legal services, and how states can join together and offer more legal services to those in need without opening up the public to the risk of harm.

Register here for Dan’s sessions on March 23 or March 24
The pandemic has increased people’s legal needs while decreasing their ability to afford legal help. Unfortunately, the predominant reaction of the bar has been to continue to “protect” consumers from lower-cost providers through unauthorized practice of law (UPL) restrictions that serve primarily to protect the bar’s monopoly over legal services.

The bar’s behavior of ignoring the needs of consumers they claim to protect is not new. In the wake of the Great Depression, as people sought affordable alternatives to lawyers, bar associations successfully lobbied state legislatures to restrict their competitors through some of the first UPL laws.

Then, in the 1960s, the bar attempted to use UPL restrictions to prevent Norman Dacey from selling his self-help book How To Avoid Probate, despite—or more likely due to—millions of Americans who chose to use this book rather than hire a lawyer.

And the current use of UPL regulation against software can be traced to the 1999 decision by a federal court agreeing with the Texas UPL Committee that Quicken Family Lawyer software was acting as a “cyber-lawyer.”

If the bar had asked, consumers in each of these eras would have said that they don’t need to be “protected” from individuals, books, and software that provide affordable legal help. It’s time to end nearly a century of “lawyer-splaining” about what consumers need.

    IAALS is a national, independent research center dedicated to facilitating continuous improvement and advancing excellence in the American legal system. Our mission is to forge innovative and practical solutions to problems within the American legal system. 

    in the Future of the American Legal System

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