A construction team physically builds a skyscraper by starting with the foundation. Similarly, as we begin our “Building Blocks” journey, let’s establish the foundational ‘building block’ of innovation in legal services.
When I began planning this blog post, I thought that our foundation would be a simple definition of legal services. After conducting substantial research, it’s clear that I was wrong.
Legal-Explanations.com states, “Legal services are the services involving legal or law related matters like issue of legal opinion, filing, pleading and defending of law suits etc [sic] by a lawyer or attorney practicing law related services.”
The Cambridge Dictionary concisely defines legal services as “work done by a lawyer for a client.”
Note that each definition specifies lawyers as the providers of the “work” of legal services. In the United States, that specificity is supported by prohibitions on the unauthorized practice of law by nonlawyers. For example, see the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 5.4(b), which states “A lawyer shall not form a partnership with a nonlawyer” to deliver legal services. Internationally, however, the definition of legal services does not always specify who provides the work of legal services (see “What We Know and Need to Know About Global Lawyer Regulation”, page 471). Should the legal profession limit who can provide legal services? For what purposes? Do current regulations achieve those purposes?
As a brand-new law student, I don’t have enough experience or qualifications to answer those questions. But as a curious consumer, I wonder why legal services providers should always be limited to lawyers. Others in the legal profession are asking similar questions and even pushing the boundaries of who can provide which kinds of legal services (see Endnote 1). Where there is some debate about what “legal services” means, is a precise definition the foundational ‘building block’ of innovation in legal services?
Perhaps not. Rather, like the foundation of all innovation, the foundation of innovation in legal services is to question the status quo: “What should “legal services” mean?” ∎
Endnote 1: For examples of the ongoing debate about who can provide legal services, check out the following articles and reports:
- “Does the UK know something we don’t about alternative business structures?”
- “Report on the Future of Legal Services in the United States”
- “Legal Innovation is the Rage, but There’s Plenty of Resistance”
- “What We Know and Need to Know About the Delivery of Legal Services by Nonlawyers”
- “ASLPs: Already Here & Looking Upmarket” (ASLP is an acronym for “alternative legal services provider”)