No state receives higher than a ‘C’ overall on the new Report Card on Barriers to Affordable Legal Help released today by Responsive Law.
Tom Gordon, Executive Director of Responsive Law, explains more in today’s USA Today:
Imagine that at tax time you’re required to either fill out your 1040 without help or pay a CPA hundreds of dollars to do it for you. There’s no H&R Block, and while TurboTax exists, it’s under constant siege by state regulators for being an unlicensed accountant.
That’s analogous to the situation that most Americans face whenever they have a legal issue. For even simple matters, they have to either do it themselves, hire a lawyer for over $200 an hour or use software that can do the job well but which the lawyer cartel is trying to put out of business.
Responsive Law’s Report Card on Barriers to Affordable Legal Help, which will be released Thursday, grades each state on how restrictions created by lawyers make legal help expensive and inaccessible for its residents. No state received a grade above a C. The two factors most responsible for the low grades are restrictions on who can provide legal services and restrictions on the corporate structure of law firms.
For a basic will or uncontested divorce, a consumer could be well served by a competent professional other than a lawyer. However, in most states, only lawyers are allowed to provide these services. State bars have used vaguely worded restrictions on the “unauthorized practice of law” to bring legal actions against everyone from major companies like LegalZoom to small mom-and-pop operations.
The worst offender in restricting competition is Florida, which received an F in the category of Barriers to Non-Lawyer Help. The Florida Bar has a $1.97 million annual budget dedicated to enforcement of unauthorized practice restrictions that it has used to pursue charges against people like Katie Vickers, a senior citizen who helped a fellow parishioner at her church with completing workers compensation forms.
From the New York Times comes news that Cesar Vargas has been admitted to practice law in New York, despite his status as an undocumented immigrant:
His legal fight to become a lawyer lasted three years. This week, Cesar Vargas, a Mexican-born 31-year-old New Yorker, became the first immigrant in the state without legal status to be approved to work as a lawyer.
An appellate panel of the State Supreme Court approved his application to the bar on Wednesday, overturning a 2013 decision by a committee that had denied his application based on his immigration status but had asked the court to rule.
In its decision, the state judiciary did what the Legislature in Albany has not been able to do: establish at least a modicum of immigration policy change.
The decision could be a test case, not only for the city, but also for the country, affecting hundreds of would-be lawyers and empowering immigrants who arrived as children to the United States and have been granted a reprieve from deportation.
Read the full article here.
Last week the Supreme Court issued a 6-3 opinion affirming the Fourth Circuit’s decision in North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission. In the decision below, the Fourth Circuit upheld the FTC’s determination that the Board of Dental Examiners violated antitrust law in issuing cease-and-desist letters to non-dentists performing teeth whitening services, finding that the Board acted as a group of private dentists rather than as a state actor. Agreeing with the Fourth Circuit, Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, observed: “Limits on state-action immunity are most essential when the State seeks to delegate its regulatory power to active market participants, for established ethical standards may blend with private anticompetitive motives in a way difficult for even market participants to discern. Dual allegiances are not always apparent to an actor.” The decision may have implications for state bar regulators, particularly regarding unauthorized practice of law enforcement.
For more about the potential impact of the case on the legal profession, see Ken Friedman’s Forbes article (he’s the VP of Legal and Government Affiars for LegalZoom) and commentary from PrawfsBlawg. (Disclaimer, I assisted in authoring an amicus brief on behalf of LegalZoom and others. I’m also working on a paper about antitrust enforcement and the legal profession—I hope to be posting it soon…)
The ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education has released a draft report with proposed reforms to law school pricing, accreditation, and licensing. The accompanying press release is here. For more commentary, head over to the Legal Ethics Forum. This report addresses many of the themes in Chapter 9, and is worth assigning to students in addition to that material or using it to supplement class discussion.