Democratizing the Delivery of Legal Services
Renee Newman Knake
University of Houston Law Center
March 31, 2011
Ohio State Law Journal, 2012
MSU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 09-08
One of the most significant problems faced by the legal profession in the twenty-first century is the ineffective delivery of legal services. Millions in need of legal representation are unable to afford a lawyer and thousands of lawyers are unemployed. We are desperate for a solution to democratize access to the law through efficient and affordable delivery of legal services.
Noted law scholars and economists have argued over the years that corporate ownership of law firms can offer a solution to this problem. For example, corporations like Wal-Mart or Google are especially adept at disseminating services and information to the mass public. These kinds of corporations are also financially situated to make substantial capital outlays and await a later return on the investment. Both of these attributes make corporate ownership of law firms an appealing avenue for increasing access to legal services. Yet professional conduct rules in all fifty states ban corporations from owning or investing in law firms.
This Article identifies a First Amendment jurisprudential thread that establishes important constitutional interests in corporate ownership of law firms, interests held by both corporations and individuals. The Supreme Court initially recognized First Amendment protection for the delivery of legal services by a corporate entity in NAACP v. Button and most recently confirmed in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that a corporation, whether non-profit or for-profit, enjoys the same free speech rights as an individual. Under this precedent, blanket bans on corporate ownership of law firms cannot survive. This expanded understanding of First Amendment rights for corporations parallels the economic realities of modern law practice and the regulatory changes underway in the United Kingdom and Australia. Now is the time for regulators to embrace the benefits that can accrue from corporate ownership, in particular the democratization of law through the delivery of more accessible and affordable legal services.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 46
Keywords: Constitutional Law, First Amendment, Corporations, Free Speech, Legal Profession, Professional Responsibility, Legal Ethics, Delivery of Legal Services, NAACP v. Button, Citizens United v. FEC
Date posted: April 5, 2011 ; Last revised: May 16, 2012