Interesting Juxtaposition: ABA President Supports NonLawyer Practice While Supreme Court Explores Potential Anti-Trust Violation by Dentist Self-Regulation

Its news on its own that ABA President William Hubbard appears to have endorsed nonlawyer practive:

As reported, at an ABA Young Lawyers Division meeting. . .

Hubbard saluted the state of Washington, which was the first in the nation in 2012 to create a new class of legal worker known as a limited license legal technician. This ‘LLLT” role, somewhere between a lawyer and a paralegal, could help the state address the justice gap, in part because they will work cheaper than attorneys.

Hubbard also drew attention to the critical importance of technological change:

Hubbard, a commercial litigator from Columbia, S.C., is convinced technology offers answers. Consider a young, poor single mother who receives an eviction notice. Imagine if the woman could photograph the eviction notice, email the image to a legal portal, and get some initial advice online.

“Technology can make us more efficient,” he said. Given that more than 80 percent of Americans, regardless of income, have access to smart phones, “they can be a game-changer.”

Sophisticated investors are betting millions that technology will fundamentally remake the way law is practiced in this country. Venture investors and private equity companies in 2013 invested $458 million in technology firms that provide some sort of legal service. Similar investments are on track to surpass $1 billion in 2014.

“We need to marry that spirit of innovation with a system that works for all Americans,” Hubbard said.

But what is particularly interesting that this all happened the same week that the US Supreme Court heard an oral argument in which the FTC and the North Carolina Dental Board went up against each other on whether the Board violated the Sherman Anti Trust Act when it defined tooth whitening as within the practice of dentistry, open only to dentists. (Interestingly part of the case focused on the fact that technology had now made tooth whitening much simper to do — maybe sort of like court forms versus old style pleadings.)  (New York Times account of Tuesday’s hearing here.)

While the argument  (transcript here) tended to focus on the scope of the state action exemption to anti-trust law, in the background the question of monopoly protecting regulation was very much present.  While a small group of state bars did submit an amicus in support of the regulating dentists, it is somewhat encouraging that the ABA did not join that amicus (although it is always possible that the was less a policy decision than a product of the complexity of the ABA amicus process.)

In any event, it will be fascinating and important to see how this plays out.  That the ABA is moving in an access direction is all to the good.  Lets hope it is maintained as the presidential succession moves inexorably on.

Update:  Here is the SCOTUS report on the oral argument, Court wary of immunity for licensing boards, but what about doctors?


About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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