Here is an idea that might be a breakthrough for access to justice, while enhancing the role and reputation of community based nonprofit legal aid programs.
How about almost complete deregulation of nonprofit legal practice. True nonprofits (defined not only in terms of ownership, but also remuneration and remuneration to principals of contractors) would be almost completely deregulated.
That would mean that they could use nonlawyers however they judged appropriate — even in court — they could operate across state lines, and they could use technology as they saw fit. They could market, and they could charge. They would, of course still be under obligations of competence, zealousness and confidentiality, once the relationship was established.
Previous rule changes and proposals have foreshadowed this approach, with, for example, the conflict checking requirements in limited services cases relaxed for nonprofits under Rule 6.5, and the proposal from the NY courts to the NY legislature to allow certain nonprofit legal programs to pilot experiments using nonlaywer “court advocates.”
The core idea is simply that nonprofit programs are not under the same competitive pressures to cut corners and ignore the interests of the clients which the ethical rules are designed to counter.
Thus the nonprofits become safe and appropriate laboratories for experimentation, and the ideas they could freely pioneer would help move a radical expansion of access forward. This could only help the role and reputation of community-based legal aid.
It might be that some lawyers currently in small or solo practice would switch to a nonprofit model to take advantage of this freedom, and that might be all to the good. This flexibility would surely be helpful to the incubator movement, both because most are set up as nonprofits, and because it would offer a model of sustainable organizations into which young lawyers could graduate.