Illinois Legal Industry Reform

Illinois is considering some mighty legal industry reform. It may not be the first state in the nation to shake up its legal industry, but the changes Illinois is contemplating are creative and expansive. We can’t wait to see how Illinois changes the legal industry in the Prairie State and beyond.

“Today’s legal market for consumer and small business services is not working well for most involved. … Disruption and change are already happening all around us, and the question is how we are going to respond to them. We can either take a lead role in shaping that change, or we can watch as outside forces shape the future for us.”

What Legal Industry Reforms Are Being Considered in Illinois?

Illinois has been actively researching legal industry reform for years. In 2019, the Chicago Bar Association and Chicago Bar Foundation (CBA/CBF) formed the Task Force on the Sustainable Practice of Law & Innovation. After a year of research, the Task Force (broken down into five committees) submitted recommendations to the Illinois Supreme Court in October 2020.

The Task Force was mindful of the growing separation between the public’s legal needs and lawyers. To combat this disconnect, the group’s goals were to bring lawyers and clients together, help people understand when they have a legal problem, and spur innovation across the legal industry.

Notable recommendations still under consideration include:

  • Develop alternative fees to achieve more transparent, upfront pricing for legal services.
  • Make it easier for people to find legal information and lawyers.
  • Expand the court navigator network and add a position that would help people navigate the legal system to access the help they need.
  • Clearly define the practice of law. The current definition adopts a “we’ll know it when we see it” approach, which leaves ample room for interpretation.
  • Rewrite the Rules of Professional Conduct so that they’re in “plain language.”

The Task Force also recommended that the Supreme Court assess whether Rule 5.4’s limitations on law firm ownership are appropriate, and to make changes as needed. Those considerations are pending data from Utah and Arizona, which already allow for nonlawyer-owned law firms. (If/when Illinois amends Rule 5.4 to allow nonlawyer-owned entities to practice law, that’s where Law on Call comes in!)

When Will Legal Reforms in Illinois Be Implemented?

The Illinois Supreme Court continues to review and respond to the Task Force’s recommendations. The Court has already issued some updates, and further recommendations are expected sometime in Fall 2021.

Why Is Legal Industry Reform in Illinois Necessary?

Legal industry reform in Illinois is necessary because the system is breaking down in multiple ways. As stated in the Task Force Report commissioned by the CBA/CBF, “Today’s legal market for consumer and small business services is not working well for most involved.” And the access to justice gap only grows.

The report goes on to say, “Disruption and change are already happening all around us, and the question is how we are going to respond to them. We can either take a lead role in shaping that change, or we can watch as outside forces shape the future for us. Either way, the status quo is unacceptable.”

How Does Law on Call Fit in to Illinois Legal Reform?

Illinois awaits data from Arizona and Utah regarding alternative business models. Once that data is received, the Supreme Court will resume consideration of nonlawyer-owned law firms. We’re confident that the data from Arizona and Utah will be positive, and are hopeful that Illinois will allow operations like Law on Call within the next few years.

Is Illinois the Only State Pursuing Legal Industry Reform?

No! At least a dozen states are considering legal industry reform and researching the access to justice gap.

In Connecticut, legal industry reform is being studied from five distinct angles, and recommendations are expected by Fall 2021. In California, legal reform recommendations will be submitted by the Working Group no later than Fall 2022. And in Utah, the legal regulatory Sandbox is up and running, and Law on Call has been in operation there since Winter 2021.

Legal industry reform is just beginning.