When Lawyers Don't Get All the Profits: Non-Lawyer Ownership, Access, and Professionalism

62 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2014 Last revised: 19 Feb 2016

See all articles by Nick Robinson

Nick Robinson

International Center for Not-for-Profit Law; Harvard Law School, Center on the Legal Profession

Date Written: August 27, 2014


With multiple countries now allowing for non-lawyer ownership of legal services, and other jurisdictions considering a similar shift, the legal profession is in the midst of a global regulatory moment. Where non-lawyer ownership has been allowed, personal injury firms have listed on stock exchanges, major insurance companies have bought law firms, and brands best known for their grocery stores have started offering legal services. Proponents argue that these developments will spur investment and innovation, promoting access to justice by making legal services more affordable and reliable. However, there has been little empirical research to test this proposition.

This article draws on case studies and quantitative data from the United Kingdom and Australia, where non-lawyer ownership has been allowed, as well as the United States – where parallels to such ownership have emerged in online and administrative law legal services. Based on this evidence, it argues that the benefits of non-lawyer ownership have been oversold with respect to access to civil legal services for poor and moderate-income populations and it identifies serious new professionalism challenges such ownership can create. While some form of non-lawyer ownership is likely to continue to spread, these conclusions cast doubt on the ability of non-lawyer ownership to substantially improve access to legal services, suggesting that alternative access strategies should be prioritized. They also point towards the need to carefully regulate non-lawyer ownership in some contexts.

Traditionally, academics have been wary that lawyers will capture the regulation of legal services, but non-lawyer ownership, which allows for others to profit from legal services as well, raises the likelihood that new actors may also capture the profession’s regulation. Given this environment, the article recommends that going forward a diverse set of stakeholders, drawing on as much empirical data as possible, develop a tailored approach to the regulation of non-lawyer ownership.

Keywords: legal profession, non-lawyer ownership, corporate practice of law, alternative business structures, Incorporated Legal Practices, social security disability represetnation, online legal services, personal injury, family legal services, australia, england and wales, united kingdom, united states

JEL Classification: K40

Suggested Citation

Robinson, Nick, When Lawyers Don't Get All the Profits: Non-Lawyer Ownership, Access, and Professionalism (August 27, 2014). 29 Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, 1, 1 (2016), HLS Program on the Legal Profession Research Paper No. 2014-20, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2487878

Nick Robinson (Contact Author)

International Center for Not-for-Profit Law ( email )

1126 16th Street NW
Washington, DC 20036
United States

Harvard Law School, Center on the Legal Profession ( email )

1563 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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