Edmund H. Mahony for The Hartford Courant reported today that a new york law office (Jacoby & Meyers) has sued for the right to raise money from non-lawyers by selling shares. That law office filed lawsuits in federal courts in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. The law suit is against the judges of the state Superior Court (apparently, they adopt and enforce the state’s rules of professional conduct for lawyers).
The law firm is arguing that not having access to capital is hindering lawyers’ ability to compete, expand, invest in technology, and reach out to new markets. The rules are decades old and are in need of updating to reflect a more global society where many people (namely, the middle and lower classes) cannot afford access to justice.
The rules were put in place to prohibit lawyers from having conflicts of interest: by splitting fees with non-lawyer investors, lawyers could have a financial incentive to listen or represent their business partners and not their client. In this sense, the lawyer will not be independent and their loyalty would be put into question.
I think this argument is bogus. The rules were written with loyalty in mind, but why can’t lawyers still provide professional services while keeping in mind their professional obligations (i.e. if there is a conflict of interest, they need to disclose it and perhaps stop representing a client)?
Furthermore, lawyers are in business as much as they are in a profession. They must compete, adapt, invest, and market themselves in order to survive. Why can’t they be able to raise funds in the same way that non-lawyers can? I’m sure that, with such investment, lawyers will be able to come up with innovative, cost-effective, and technologically advanced ways to reach the masses who are in need to legal services. Besides, this is already being done in the U.K. and Australia to a greater extent.
The law firm that is heading up the suit also claims to be the first firm in the U.S. to advertise on TV and accept payment by credit card. It was founded in 1972 and has offices in retail shopping centres and has maintained evening and Saturday hours. A truly innovative firm! I commend you on your journey to opening up legal services to the average person!