Many D.C. firms that have non-lawyer partners do so in the government affairs area [but] …
The rule has much broader reach, giving architects at land-use firms, social workers at family law firms and scientists at intellectual property firms a chance to share in the profits.
The D.C. rule does not allow simple investment, however.
There are some limitations: non-lawyers must be employees of the firm, not simply an outside investor, and the firm’s sole purpose must be to provide legal services; non-lawyers cannot have their own clients separate from those of the law firm.
That would seem to make it impossible for a firm to leverage outside investment to create a Wal-Mart style law firm at scale. But it definitely opens the door to small firms that want to expand their competence within a practice area.
And what about ethics, the big objection every time non-lawyer ownership comes up? D.C. doesn’t seem to have a problem with non-lawyer partners disregarding legal ethics rules.
No D.C. law firm with non-lawyer partners has faced disciplinary action over non-lawyers interfering with lawyers’ professional judgment, the commission’s draft letter noted.
Maybe it’s time to kick that objection to the curb and (finally) recognize that lawyers don’t have a monopoly on ethics.
Featured image: “Washington, D.C. cityscape with Washington Monument and Capitol Hill, viewed from Arlington National Cemetery.” from Shutterstock.