A call for bold action to address A2J

I’ve been honored to serve as Chair of the Innovations Committee of the Oregon Bar’s Futures Task Force for the past several months. Convened in two parts, a Regulatory Committee and an Innovation Committee, the Bar’s Board of Governors commissioned the Task Force to “Examine how the Oregon State Bar can best protect the public and support lawyers’ professional development in the face of the rapid evolution of the manner in which legal services are obtained and delivered.”

After much work and careful deliberation, the Task Force’s findings and recommendations are in. They call for the Bar to take bold action, both through regulatory reform and improved business practices, to embrace and leverage innovation to address the (growing) access to justice gap as well as to build new and sustainable models for modern legal practice.

I’ll address many of these findings and recommendations in detail in future posts, but a few highlights:

The Task Force found that despite the tremendous efforts of Legal Aid, Clinics, Pro Bono Programs, and other access to justice programs, the unmet need for legal services among low-to-moderate income Oregonians is larger than ever.

As a result, we recognize and acknowledge that we’re not going to make significant progress by trying to do more of the same. We have to find ways to leverage the abilities and knowledge of Oregon’s lawyers to geometrically increase our ability to serve Oregonians.

Specifically, we recommend regulatory changes to the Oregon Rules of Professional Conduct to expressly allow:

Licensed Paraprofessionals to assist Oregonians facing Family Law (where 80% of Oregon litigants are not represented by counsel) and Landlord-Tenant(where 85% of Oregon Residential Landlord-Tenant litigants are unrepresented) issues;

Attorney advertising in all forms, including online advertising, so long as it doesn’t target clients who lack capacity or otherwise involve duress, harassment, or coercion;

Fee-sharing with lawyer referral services (including for-profit providers) with appropriate disclosure to clients and continued requirements for the reasonableness of the overall fee; and

Fee-sharing with licensed paraprofessionals for matters within the scope of their license.

We also recommend embracing online legal document services, including those that utilize artificial intelligence, by amending the RPCs to “Clarify that providing access to web-based intelligent software that allows consumers to create custom legal documents is not the practice of law” for purposes of UPL rules, while ensuring consumer protection via other channels.

We expressed a need for the Bar to more fully commit to data-driven decision making by developing a KPI scorecard for the Mission and Values of the Oregon State Bar.

We recommend a broad expansion of the Bar’s Lawyer Referral Service and Modest Means Program (by 50% over four years).

We recommend that the bar fully embrace unbundled legal services and promote the provision of limited-scope representation.

We recommend that the Bar and legal educators develop comprehensive programs to better teach the tools of modern law practice, with a specific focus on automation, outsourcing, and project management.

The executive summary of the Task Force findings and recommendations is now available via an online reader or PDF download. I’m extremely proud of the Task Force’s work and I look forward to presenting the recommendations of the Innovation Committee to the full Board of Governors next week. I’m honored to do so alongside Judge Chris Garrett, who chaired the Regulatory Committee, and with the guidance and support of Bar leadership, including Executive Director Helen Hierschbiel, General Counsel Amber Hollister, and the many others who worked to make the Task Force a success.

I’m also proud of the way members of both committees “walked the walk” in trying new ways of working toward producing the reports. Both groups utilized an Agile approach, including building the report sections in sprints, using a Trello-based kanban board to track progress, embracing Slack for asynchronous many-to-many communications, and, for the Innovation Committee, building our report using the real-time collaboration and change-control features of Google Docs.

On the Innovation Committee, we also embraced accessibility principles for the meetings itself, including using 18F’s best practices for distributed teams. These new approaches weren’t without challenges, but team members opened their minds to new ideas and I think we all learned a lot about these different ways of working, which is the whole point of innovation in the first place.

As I said, I plan to write more soon to talk about the underpinnings of the recommendations and to address some of the concerns we’re already starting to hear. In a nutshell, I’m quite certain that the recommendations we’ve made will expand both access to legal services for Oregonians and opportunities for Oregon lawyers to practice our craft (if not always in the ways we’ve been used to). In the mean time, I welcome your comments and feedback.

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