A State Bar working group studying innovations that could increase access to justice for all Californians held its first public meeting Thursday, January 14, 2021. The State Bar’s Closing the Justice Gap Working Group, created by the Board of Trustees to carry on with important recommendations from the State Bar’s Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Legal Services (ATILS), is charged with:
• Investigating the development of a regulatory sandbox to foster experimentation with innovative systems for delivery of legal services in a manner that protects the public and allows data collection to assess the impact of possible regulatory changes governing the practice of law in California;
• Exploring amendments to the Rules of Professional Conduct regarding the ability of lawyers to share fees with nonlawyers as a way to promote collaboration, innovation, and investment in new delivery systems that lower costs and increase access to legal services;
• Examining the addition of rule 5.7 to the Rules of Professional Conduct addressing the delivery of nonlegal services by lawyers and businesses owned or affiliated with lawyers; and
• Considering amendments to the Certified Lawyer Referral Service statutes and Rules of the State Bar to enhance efforts to expand access to legal services.
The task force is chaired by Justice Alison M. Tucher, Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, Division 4, in San Francisco.
“The immense challenges of the past year have only heightened the needs that this group’s work is intended to address,” said Justice Tucher. “Fortunately, meeting virtually enables us to bring together a truly remarkable working group, all of whom are volunteering their expertise to help California move forward. We are honored and excited to get started.”
The 20-member working group includes state, national, and international experts whose work focuses on the nexus of legal services, technology, and regulatory reform. It also includes members from important practitioner groups as well as members continuing from ATILS—who bring deep experience in California’s legal services community and expertise in legal ethics—to provide continuity with that foundational effort.
The agenda for the working group’s first meeting provided members with important background to set the stage for the in-depth discussions at future meetings. Working group members shared presentations on how consumers grapple with civil legal problems, how the United Kingdom has approached closing the justice gap, how Utah is using a regulatory sandbox to experiment with new types of legal businesses aimed at reducing the justice gap, and on several areas of legal ethics that the working group will probe.
The public meeting took place via Zoom, and an online recording will soon be made available at: board.calbar.ca.gov/Video.aspx.
The working group is expected to submit its recommendations to the Board of Trustees no later than September 2022. Each recommendation is expected to balance the dual goals of public protection and increased access to justice.
The State Bar of California’s mission is to protect the public and includes the primary functions of licensing, regulation and discipline of attorneys; the advancement of the ethical and competent practice of law; and support of efforts for greater access to, and inclusion in, the legal system.