Arizona implemented a new rule allowing non-lawyers to practice law. Two lawyers break down what that means
Two lawyers are weighing in with concerns about the "possible unintended consequences" of Arizona's new rules allowing nonlawyers to practice law and even own law firms in the state.
In an op-ed published by AZ Central, Maya Steinitz and Victoria Sahani highlighted key areas that could lead to a causal sequence of problematic issues within the state's legal system. While they did note that the new rule could help Arizonians secure legal representation for less-complicated matters such as "uncontested divorces, obtaining temporary restraining orders, drafting wills, contesting traffic tickets and more" there are other areas that could lead to concerns for licensed lawyers.
Under Arizona's new rule, nonlawyers are allowed to "invest in and manage Arizona law firms structured as 'Alternative Business Structures' — business entities that provide legal services and include nonlawyers with economic interests or decision-making authority."
With the many broken down barriers that are now paving a new path for nonlawyer legal paraprofessionals (LPs), Steinitz and Sahani believe two issues could arise: the reforms' effect on cost reduction and the possibility of two work classes creating more competition for bar-licensed attorneys.
Under the Alternative Business Structures, LPs also have the advantage of offering "services at entities like big-box retail stores or banks as well as join with accountants, psychologists, or others to offer multiple professional services under one roof." With this particular change, some law firms would be categorized as businesses that can receive capital from an array of different disclosed sources in an effort to "reduce firms' costs and, correspondingly, the fees paid by clients."
The other aspect of the possible domino effect centers on the impending existence of two different legal work classes. The lawyers explained how the new market could open the door for "two types of 'second class citizenship.'"
One type will be for parties who can only afford an LP but will be facing well-resourced parties able to afford attorneys who have more extensive training and expertise.
The other type is that those already underrepresented in the legal profession — women and minorities — are more likely to become legal paraprofessionals, namely less prestigious and less remunerated members of the profession.
While there is no way to determine the definitive outcome of these changes, Steinitz and Sahani insist the reforms will greatly impact both licensed lawyers and citizens.