US bar votes for ownership reform – with caveats



US state bars have received a green light from their central representative body to explore allowing new models of legal practice – but in a resolution which carefully avoids endorsing England and Wales-style reforms. At its half yearly meeting in Austin, Texas, the American Bar Association (ABA) House of Delegates approved a resolution encouraging states and other jurisdictions ‘to consider innovative approaches to expanding access to justice with the goal of improving affordability and quality of civil legal services’.

However following concerns raised by some delegates, a resolution in favour of liberalising ownership was amended to state that it should not be construed as recommending any changes to rules relating to non-lawyer ownership of firms. 

Despite a blanket ban on non-lawyer ownership in the US, the ABA says at least six states have proposed or adopted ‘substantial regulatory changes that could loosen rules’. Resolution 115, proposed by the ABA Center for Innovation, encourages state regulators and bar associations to continue these efforts and ‘ensure that changes are effective in increasing access to legal services and are in the interest of clients and the public’. 

The resolution, which is not directly binding on state bars, was among more than three dozen passed at the meeting. These include recommendations for governments to review ‘deadly force’ policies, curb gun violence and lessen the burden for release after a conviction and before sentencing on criminal charges. 

Gun safety measures include recommending a ban on ‘ghost guns’, home made firearms lacking serial numbers or other identifying marks.  



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