February 5, 2016: New York State Bar Association Opposes ABA Commission Proposal on Nonlawyer Legal Service Providers

The New York State Bar Association strongly urges the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association to reject a resolution on provision of legal services by nonlawyers, because “we cannot lose sight of the core values of our profession and our commitment to the ethical standards that define our profession.”

During its meeting in San Diego next Monday, February 8, 2016, the ABA’s House is scheduled to vote on Resolution 105, which, if approved, would adopt “ABA Model Regulatory Objectives for the Provision of Legal Services.”

On January 28, 2016, the Executive Committee of the New York State Bar Association approved its Working Group's comments in opposition to the ABA resolution, based in part, on the Association's longstanding opposition to nonlawyer ownership of law firms, and nonlawyer provision of legal services without lawyer supervision.

Central to the Working Group's position is the vagueness of the ABA proposal and the term “legal service providers” and that the measure can be interpreted as opening the door to nonlawyer ownership of law firms.

“Nonlawyer ownership of law firms creates a whole new set of fiduciary responsibilities, which have nothing to do with the best interests of the clients we are duty-bound to serve,” said New York State Bar Association President David P. Miranda. 

“Investors want to see a profit; shareholders are owed a fiduciary duty. A lawyer’s professional judgment should not be compromised by the need to hit quarterly goals,” Miranda noted "Lawyers' rules of professional responsibility are in place to protect the public and clients we serve."

The ABA resolution does not define nonlawyer legal service providers. However, the definition could include an array of businesses that have sprung up in recent years, including services that rank and rate individual attorneys, online legal document providers, and marketing, accounting or e-discovery firms.

In rejecting the ABA proposal, the New York State Bar Association said Resolution 105 does not properly address the issue of legal services being provided with adherence to the core principles of the profession, such as client confidentiality, lawyer independence and loyalty to legal clients. 

The State Bar’s January 28 action noted the efforts of the ABA Commission on the Future of the Legal Services.

“We recognize the need to find innovative ways to satisfy the unmet legal needs of the public and address ever-increasing technological change.  But despite the importance of these tasks—and our Association's intent to meet those challenges—we must not lose sight of the core values of our profession and our ethical standards. Proposed Resolution 105 does not adequately address these, and until it does, we cannot support it.”

In calling for the ABA House of Delegates to reject Resolution 105, Miranda said, “Our State Bar Association looks forward to a continuing dialogue with the ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services.”

For more information about the State Bar’s opposition to ABA Resolution 105, the text of the resolution and related articles, go towww.nysba.org/ABAresolution105.

The 74,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary bar association in the nation. It was founded in 1876.

Contact: Lise Bang-Jensen
Director, Media Services and Public Affairs
Lbang-jensen@nysba.org
518-487-5530