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Should Non-Lawyer Ownership of Law Firms be Endorsed and Encouraged?

Andrew Grech1 and Tahlia Gordon2

Introduction

Over the past few years a succession of academic and discussion papers have been published examining the arguments for and against the liberalisation of laws prohibiting non-lawyer ownership of law firms.3

Lawyers have a duty to seek out ways to provide meaningful, innovative and accessible solutions to a key problem which undermines the proper administration to justice – the lack of access to legal services. The key challenge faced in many jurisdictions is not one of defining rights and obligations, but rather providing people with knowledge of and access to the legal system so that rights can be exercised and obligations enforced – effectively. Whilst we do not contend that it is in a way a panacea to ending barriers to the legal system for ordinary citizens, we do contend that liberalising the ownership structures of law firms will contribute to improving access to the legal system and will also place the legal profession in a better position to compete with the current array of unqualified (and largely unregulated) providers entering the legal services market.

This paper argues that if regulated appropriately as Australia, England and Wales have done, non-lawyer owners of law firms present no risk to the professions core values. The greatest threat to the legal profession and the ethical practice of law is not the innovation and enlarged capital base that non-lawyer ownership facilitates, but the steady increase of legal service providers and enterprises offering unregulated legal services.

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