25 July 2019

Postcards from the legal edge

California State Bar looks set to push the boundaries of legal practice as it invites public comment on tech task force's regulatory reform options.

The California State Bar, which regulates around 170,000 lawyers, is set to make a sweeping set of regulatory reform options for improving access to legal services, including the relaxation of rules about the involvement of non-lawyers in the profession

Sixteen options

The proposals have been developed by the Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Legal Services (ATILS), which has invited members of the public to review and comment. The Task Force’s 16 reform options under consideration represent a groundbreaking menu of possible changes to certain key regulatory issues, including: Exceptions to current restrictions on the unauthorized practice of law; the prospect of non-attorney ownership; and entity regulation. Formed by the Board of Trustees in 2018, ATILS is charged with identifying possible regulatory changes that could remove barriers to innovation and enhance the delivery of, and access to, legal services. The Board directed the Task Force to balance the dual goals of public protection and increased access. The State Bar emphasises it will require the same existing ethical standards on non-lawyers, and new entrants should have to meet eligibility qualifications and become regulated.

Comment period

The invitation to comment includes an online form to make it easier for members of the public to review the proposed options and comment on specific items. 60-day public comment period extends through September 23, 2019. The Task Force also plans to hold a public hearing to receive oral testimony. The hearing will take place on August 10, 2019, at the State Bar’s San Francisco office. The State Bar is also working with bar associations throughout the state to schedule forums on the ATILS options during the comment period. The 23-member Task Force includes 11 public members, 10 lawyers, and two judges. The non-attorney majority is designed to help ensure that the Task Force focuses on protecting the interests of the public. The Task Force will deliver its final report to the Board of Trustees no later than December 31, 2019.