Innovation, Regulation and The Legal Profession

Associate Professor Jamila Jefferson-Jones in the Law Library

In this excerpt from our latest issue of our alumni magazine, Res Ipsa, Associate Professor Jamila Jefferson-Jones provides insight on how disruptive innovations will affect the legal profession.

In many sectors of our economy, we are witnessing the effects of disruptive innovations by entrepreneurs and established firms alike. Consider a business trip: technology and the sharing economy have changed how we travel (e.g., Uber) and where we stay (e.g., Airbnb).

As with other sectors of the economy and society, innovations can disrupt the practice of law. How easily can attorneys act as entrepreneurs? The regulation of the profession is an important factor. Rigid barriers for admission to practice and unauthorized practice restrictions can protect the public but also raise the cost of legal services. Restrictions on advertising, referrals, multi-disciplinary practice, and even the scope of conflict of interest rules can impact innovation.

In recent years, state supreme courts have modified regulations to allow more innovative delivery of legal services and to increase access to attorneys. These include rules that allow attorneys to more easily respond to emergencies affecting the justice system — such as natural or other major disasters — without concern for unauthorized practice rules. It also includes rules permitting attorneys to provide limited legal services (unbundled) or nonprofit and court-annexed limited legal services without having to bear the full burden of conflicts of interest or withdrawal rules.

As disruptive innovations challenge business-as-usual, the legal profession will need to revisit its own regulations to strike a balance between protecting the public and providing access to justice.


Read the full issue of Res Ipsa here.

Published: Jun 26, 2017