Florida Bar President Proposes LLLTs, Non-Lawyer Ownership

In a recent speech, Florida Bar President Ramón Abadin advocated for the state’s legal industry to change with the times and explore new ideas for the delivery of legal services. Abadin advocated that the Florida Bar consider allowing:

  • Fee splitting with non-lawyers, such as online companies that deliver legal services;
  • Unbundling of legal services;
  • Reciprocity with other states (right now Florida isn’t reciprocal with any state);
  • Legal Technicians (LLLT’s) or some other kind of non-lawyer licensing program; and
  • Non-lawyer ownership of law firms.

Abadin emphasized that lawyers can no longer believe they have a monopoly over the delivery of legal services, and must begin to think of themselves as part of the greater legal marketplace.

Florida’s Bar Association, like those in many states, has kept its head in the sand for far too long. This is a state where lawyers are allowed to have LinkedIn profiles but, until recently, were prohibited from saying they had “Skills and Expertise” in certain areas.1 Only LinkedIn changing the heading from “Skills and Expertise” to “Skills and Endorsements” fixed that intractable ethical problem. Florida’s ethics rules still prohibit direct solicitation by telegraph.

Other states are starting to allow the licensing of non-lawyers. The specter of state bar associations losing their immunity to antitrust suits is rising. But my guess is that any changes will come slowly, if at all. The real issue will be whether state bar associations and lawyers can change themselves to fit the times, and do so responsibly and ethically, or whether the times will change without them.

Update: At least one newspaper is reporting that Florida lawyers are incensed by the proposal to make the state reciprocal with other states. Here’s the main reason why, from the article:

In the Bar survey published last year, 49 percent of Florida lawyers who responded said the state already had too many lawyers. Since 2000, the number of licensed Florida attorneys has swollen from 60,9000 to 101,093, of whom 88,000 are currently eligible to practice. In the same period, five new law schools have opened, cranking out even more lawyers.

It sounds like this reaction may be due to a problem of Florida’s own making.

Featured image: “Legal Advice Compliance Consulation Expertise Help Browsing Concept ” from Shutterstock.

  1. This was because under Florida’s ethics rules only board-certified attorneys can say they’re experts in anything. 


  1. Do lawyers want to compete with Amazon and Wal-Mart? Is that a good idea for clients? No snark here; I am really at a loss for what benefit corporate ownership of law will bring to either attorneys or clients.

    • Avatar Cui Dono says:

      The same benefits it brings to doctors or other professionals: a stable employer, regular processes and support, outsourced marketing and client interfaces, and not being managed by other lawyers.

      It could also reduce the cost of legal services for average folks.

      • Avatar andrewshumate says:

        I’d hardly call what has happened to the medical profession in regards to corporate ownership to be a positive step. The legal services gap needs to be closed by a combination of lawyers, an expansion of the situations in which one is entitled to a court appointed attorney and improved funding of legal aid organizations.

        Personally I have found that if I am willing to take cases at somewhere between the court appointed hourly rate and the going rate of most attorneys, I can run a profitable law office. I do this by reducing overhead (I have a very cheap office), not having staff (those tasks are mostly automated with services like Clio) and minimizing the number of hours that I spend per week on non-billable activities. So far, it’s worked for me, but I also work in a fairly underserved area, both geographically and in regards to field of practice.

        • Avatar jbwilson24 says:

          “The legal services gap needs to be closed by a combination of lawyers, an expansion of the situations in which one is entitled to a court appointed attorney and improved funding of legal aid organizations.”

          It cannot.

          That solution does not scale to cover legal needs. Have you ever read the research on unmet legal demand or pro se representation? Have you seen the stats on how many middle class people cannot afford lawyers?

          Are middle class income earners going to get legal aid? Who pays for that? How can you possibly allocate all those legal aid lawyers efficiently?

          Simply put, legal aid and pro bono have failed. They cannot possibly meet unmet legal demand unless you have massive (and I mean 12% of the federal or state budgets) resource investments, and even then you will probably find a bottleneck in the courts.

          • Avatar andrewshumate says:

            It’s true, there are certain cases that that combination can’t cover. However, your basic legal services – divorce, will preparation, child custody and criminal defense cases – can be easily affordable to the average middle-class citizen, so long as attorneys are willing to accept reduced hourly rates and minimize overhead. Most of my paying clients are low-to-middle-income citizens, and I’ve had good successes with their cases. Currently, solos across the nation are working as court-appointed attorneys at a rate of $45-65 per hour. While that number is far too low, it does show that it’s possible to charge less and survive. If we charge clients $100 per hour, it’s relatively easy to turn a profit and still be affordable.

      • I think most doctors would disagree regarding all the “benefits” that corporatization of medicine has brought/wrought.

        I am also uncertain how adding another layer of people who need to make a profit in between the lawyer and the client will bring costs down. The only way this will happen is the same way that Wal-Mart brought down the prices for a hammer – it put the mom&pop hardware stores out of business and then forced mom&pop to work for Wal-Mart at substandard wages.

        All in all – not a great plan.

        • Avatar Cui Dono says:

          Too many cooks – that’s the problem. Those who run the law practice also provide the legal services. No other profession or industry does this. It’s inefficient, and there’s no reason for the legal services world to be an exception.

          Larger employers can buy and develop form banks, checklists, policies, standards, and norms to cut expenses and run an efficient practice. If Walmart is too politically icky an example, think of Target, Coca Cola, or Honda. These businesses all realize efficiencies because they can create organizations with workers in specialized roles. The evidence from the jurisdictions that have embraced non-lawyer ownership suggests that those non-lawyer owned firms are doing quite a good job.

          A lot of recent JD’s would welcome the opportunity to go work for Walmart legal services if it meant they had a 9-5 in an office that supported them and dealt with the administrative overhead.
          The past ten years have churned out a lot of lawyers who need jobs. At the same time, there are a lot of people who need legal services and can’t afford them. Walmart legal, or its equivalent, is a nice way of solving two problems at once. (Also, on a personal level, as somebody who has worked inside and outside the legal profession, I can say without reservation that the lawyer bosses I’ve had are the absolute worst managers of other people I’ve ever dealt with.)

          • With respect, I disagree with you on every point. Yes lawyers are a business to the extent they need to make a living. But first and foremost, law is a profession. We do things that are “bad for business” or “inefficient” all the time because doing so is in our client’s best interest. Target, CocaCola, or Honda can’t and won’t act like a profession. They just aren’t geared that way. They have shareholders to answer to and they will always, always do what is best for profits.

            Corporatization of the medical profession is a big reason why medicine is such a mess now. It is not a positive example that you should cite to.

            Are there too many lawyers? Yep. Were law schools wrong to pump out way too many lawyers (whether they were well-suited to legal practice or not) b/c it was profitable for them to do so? Yep. Did too many people go to law school b/c they wrongly believed it was an easy way to make a six-figure salary? Yep.

            Will corporatizing the legal industry solve any of these issues? Nope.

            Steps do need to be taken to ensure that the poor and the middle class can get access to legal services. Lawyers do need to use technology where appropriate to improve efficiency. Perhaps more solos do need to learn to work together better in small firms so there are fewer pure solos out there if that will improve administrative efficiencies. I’m on board with all of that. But it should be handled within the profession.

            Corporations have spent the last several decades trying to eliminate people’s ability to go to court in all kinds of areas. What do you think they will do if now they can simply buy up the entire industry? Call me out of touch with your brave new world if you wish but in my opinion allowing big corporations to take over the practice of law is the wrong way to go. It’s not even a close call. It’s bad for lawyers and bad for clients.

            • Avatar jbwilson24 says:

              Nursing is a profession.

              Do nurses run hospitals?


              The skill set possessed by lawyers is extremely limited. There is a reason that every other industry INCLUDING MEDICINE has made major strides in efficiency, quality and the like over the 100 years, while legal services are more expensive and no better.

              • Apples and oranges. Lawyers aren’t nurses and hospitals aren’t law firms. Our medical system is actually hugely inefficient and has a record of poor outcomes as compared with most other industrialized countries. Oh, and doctors are almost universally miserable. It is a terrible example to point to.

        • Avatar Sam Harden says:

          I think the best example for corporate ownership is to think of pharmacists – they used to mainly be small independent businesses that compounded drugs, but now the majority work in retail (CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, etc.) and oversee pharmacy technicians. If corporate ownership is allowed I personally think one of the first things that will happen is LegalZoom will join up with a company like Wal Mart and put a legal zoom office next to the optometrist in each store. People can go in and get legal form work, such as wills, trusts, POA’s, healthcare surrogates, etc., handled by legal technicians (like pharmacy technicians). The majority of consumers need stuff like this, and what they need isn’t complicated.

          Litigation will change differently, because legal fees paid by many insurance companies to defend against lawsuits are tax deductible, and many insurance companies can just bring teams of lawyers in-house.

          I think there are advantages and disadvantages, but change is inevitable.

    • Avatar jbwilson24 says:


      Lawyers are complete idiots when it comes to running a business. They know nothing about process improvement, quality management, project management, information technology, etc.

      They are still doing legal work in the same way that 19th century lawyers did it. Maybe there are a few templates here and there, but that’s about it. Lawyers still email around Word documents, as if it were 1993.

      Bringing in managers who know how to run a business, who know how to optimize, and who have new visions for service delivery is a good thing. Lawyers can concentrate on their narrow speciality, which is either landing clients or working on client matters. They can leave the rest up to people who know how to do it.

      I suggest reading ‘Glass Half Full’ by Benjamin Barton.

  2. Avatar smith says:

    We have the worst union in the world.

  3. Avatar 55YearBroncoFan says:

    I was a paralegal for more than eleven years. Logically I should have an interest in any proposition that would permit nonlawyers to “practice” law. It would seem such proposition would mean work for me. However, I have no such interest. I think any proposition that allows nonlawyers to “practice” law would not properly serve the public’s best interests. Even with any relaxation of UPL laws I still see it as a minefield I would prefer not to tread.

    Moreover, I really cannot wrap my arms around the notion that real, qualified attorney help is so unavailable. In recent years law schools have turned out scores of new attorneys. So many of these new attorneys cannot find attorney jobs. Many of these attorneys are so hungry for work and money, not to mention being simply hungry, that they compete with paralegals for their jobs. So, then, why can these attorneys not take on all those folks who are starving for legal help? These attorneys certainly will not charge the same fees that a twenty-year Big Law partner will charge. Some of them might take cases pro bono at least for a time to collect experience so they are better positioned to be hired into an attorney job.

    Also it’s vital to note that even though these “legal technicians” might be thoroughly tested, thoroughly vetted and thoroughly licensed, the “charlatan” potential remains. These LLLTs still have not received the depth of legal training attorneys receive. Even attorneys who specialize still have the breadth of knowledge to see and analyze fact patterns in greater depth than most nonlawyers – and sometimes fact patterns are not always as simple as they appear superficially. There is a reason why attorneys are referred as “counselors at law.”

    No matter how conscientious they may be, their licenses would allow LLLTs to practice only “limited” law. It’s easy to imagine a practitioner inadvertently crossing the line. Moreover, I would be very concerned about borderline, overzealous and egotistical “practitioners” who would deliberately push the envelope. These types are encountered from time to time. They are on some sort of mission and use their clients as pawns to further their personal causes. Another reason why this entire notion of allowing lesser-trained people “practice” law concerns me.

    I am not advocating protectionism for attorneys – not by a long shot. I am advocating protectionism for consumers of legal services. Consumers deserve the best the legal industry can provide them. And, again, I was a paralegal and I should be delighted about this development. I am not.

  4. Avatar Gabriel Munoz-Calene says:

    From a philosophical view, clinging to the past is a losing strategy.

    The issue of opening up the legal profession to non-lawyer ownership, unbundling of legal services, and incorporation of non-lawyer legal technicians may be problematic suggestions; but the idea that there are “too many lawyers” implies that the law should be kept in ivory towers.

    Under natural law theory, the source of law is divine (Blackstone and Mansfield swimming in the fountain of justice). Then a positivist approach put a sovereign at the apex of the legal system (Bentham and Austin bow to the Leviathan).

    The American revolutionary flavor spread the source of law much wider. For example, Justice Holmes puts the power in the hands of the judges by saying the law is what a judge says it is (read “The Path of the Law,” only 15-20 pages, but very relevant for all the new unemployed lawyers looking for guidance).

    The power of the law has been further spread around with philosophies such as sociological jurisprudence and American legal realism, which argue that the source of the law is the officials such as court clerks, police officers, and lawyers. Karl Llewellyn said that legal rules are just “pretty playthings.”

    The point is that the direction the path of the law takes is towards wider access.

    I don’t think corporate ownership is necessarily a good thing. But I also think that the system is so broken that many lower income people have no access to professional legal services, while many new law school grads have no access to employment.

    As a Florida lawyer, it is exciting to observe the controversy stirred up by those who want to preserve the status quo.

    I think that it is time to stop defending the past order and to start innovating and showing the timeless value of a well-trained trusted advisor.

    Wikipedia tells me that the first lawyers in Ancient Rome were trusted “friends” who would plead cases on behalf of others. They were not allowed to charge a fee to plead the cause of another.

    Perhaps if we focus on this original model, we can discover the the next steps on the path of the law.

Leave a Reply