Reforming the rules governing the practice of law is increasingly an agenda item for state bar associations and high courts, and that includes the Windy City. The Chicago Bar Association (CBA) and Chicago Bar Foundation (CBF) Task Force on the Sustainable Practice of Law and Innovation is one of the latest groups to issue a set of recommendations for public comment. The task force’s work, which began in October 2019, was driven by three overarching goals:

  • Create opportunities for lawyers to practice in a sustainable, financially viable manner;
  • Reimagine the Rules of Professional Conduct; and
  • Prioritize the use of legal technology.

To further these goals, the task force set forth 11 recommendations that seek to address the growing disconnect between the public’s legal needs and the lawyers who can serve them. Here, I offer a high-level overview of the recommendations alongside links out where you can learn more. This post is also accompanied by the upcoming launch of our Unlocking Legal Regulation newsletter, which features the executive director of the Chicago Bar Foundation, Bob Glaves, and highlights some of the unique aspects of the CBA/CBF Task Force recommendations.

CBA/CBF Task Force on the Sustainable Practice of Law and Innovation

Five of the recommendations are intended to help lawyers connect to more potential clients and offer more affordable and accessible solutions to people in need of legal help:

  • Recognize a new Intermediary Entity under which lawyers can responsibly collaborate with other entities, so long as the lawyer’s professional independence of judgment is protected.  
  • Allow lawyers to have a greater degree of participation in legal technology. This two-part recommendation enables lawyers to responsibly offer tech-based products and services and establishes an “Approved Legal Technology Provider” designation that would allow lawyers to collaborate with others in developing tech solutions.
  • Promote Limited Scope Representation by streamlining the rules as well as providing tools and education for attorneys and courts to promote the practice.
  • Develop and amend rules on alternative fees that encourage lawyers to use these structures and allow for these alternative fee structures to be the basis for a fee petition.
  • Create a new licensed paralegal designation that would expand the services these providers can undertake while working under the supervision of a lawyer.

Another set of task force recommendation responds to the reality that, oftentimes, the first hurdle for individuals is understanding that their problem is legal in nature. To that end, the task force recommends the following:

  • Streamline the attorney advertising rules to focus simply on the core principles: that lawyers should not make false, misleading, coercive, or harassing communications.
  • Create a position of “Community Justice Navigator” (building from the Illinois JusticeCorps model) that can help the public identify legitimate sources of legal information as well as connect the public with appropriate forms of legal help.
  • Establish a web-based resource hub where the public can locate vetted and court-approved (not court-endorsed) sources for legal information and assistance.

The final set of recommendations are designed to increase innovation in the profession and in the delivery of legal services:

  • Adopt a clearer definition for what constitutes the “practice of law,” so that providers offering innovative solutions have clarity around what they can and cannot offer.
  • Incorporate plain language principles into the Rules of Professional Conduct, along with a review and rethink of overly prescriptive or unnecessary regulatory provisions.
  • Consider moving further with changes to Rule 5.4 restrictions on ownership of law firms, beyond the Intermediary Entities and Approved Legal Technology Provider designations.

Make Your Voice Heard

The CBA/CBF Task Force is accepting public comment on these recommendations through August 21. All perspectives are welcome, and there are a number of resources available to those who want to learn about each recommendation in more detail. The final task force report contains an executive summary that concisely describes each recommendation and its intended impact and includes page references to the more detailed descriptions in the main body of the report. There are also short Pocket Chat videos that discuss each recommendation.

As Chicago joins many other cities and states in working toward regulatory reform, it’s important that others voice their support as well as their unique perspectives. IAALS applauds the CBA/CBF Task Force on the Sustainable Practice of Law and Innovation; we believe that an eye toward the future—as well as a willingness to change the status quo—is vital in the pursuit of justice we can believe in, and that these recommendations represent both.