New York Legal Industry Reform

New York is making strides toward legal industry reform. By chipping away at regulatory problems that have decreased access to justice, the Empire State hopes to create a better legal industry for all.

“The gap between the number of people who need legal services and the resources available to meet that need remains significant.”

What Legal Industry Reforms Are Being Considered in New York?

New York is one of the first East Coast states to consider legal industry reform. In December 2020, the Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts submitted reports detailing how to improve the state’s legal system. The Commission is made up of six working groups, each dedicated to a different aspect of the legal industry. The Working Group on Regulatory Reform made the following recommendations:

  • Allow trained and certified social workers to provide limited legal services and advocacy.
  • Expand the Court Navigators program in both scope and substance.

While these recommendations are notable, New York’s Working Group has adopted a more limited reform approach than seen in other states. (And they’re the first to admit it.) The Working Group concedes that change is necessary to improve access to justice, but does not yet believe in the groundbreaking changes many states see as the way forward.

This extends to New York’s decision regarding Alternative Business Structures. At this time, ABSs have been removed from consideration in the state. This means that, for now, nonlawyer-owned law firms are not a reality in New York, contrary to states like Arizona and Utah.

But, this may not always be the case. New York is closely watching Arizona, Utah, and other reform-leading states. As those states release data about ABSs and related entities, New York might reassess its stance.

When Will Legal Reforms in New York Be Implemented?

New York has not set a clear timeline for implementing the suggested legal industry reforms. The Working Group offered advice for how to enact the recommended reforms, and those details are currently being ironed out.

Why Is Legal Industry Reform in New York Necessary?

Legal industry reform in New York is necessary because—without intervention—the access to justice gap continues to grow.

“The gap between the number of people who need legal services and the resources available to meet that need remains significant,” writes the New York State Permanent Commission on Access to Justice in its 2019 Annual Report.

And as stated in the Working Group’s report, “The situation in New York is serious.” The Working Group determined that if this serious situation is ignored, it will only worsen.

How Does Law on Call Fit in to New York Legal Reform?

New York may reconsider Alternative Business Structures after other states release data on those entities. We believe that data will be positive, and that New York will allow the existence of nonlawyer-owned law firms like Law on Call at some point in the future.

Though New York is taking a slower route to reform than some other states are, we look forward to seeing their efforts come to fruition.

Is New York 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 Arizona, legal industry reform is already implemented, and we’ve submitted our application to operate an Alternative Business Structure in the state. In California, legal reform recommendations will be submitted by the Working Group no later than Fall 2022—the allowance of nonlawyer-owned law firms is on the table. In Utah, legal reform takes the shape of the legal regulatory Sandbox, and Law on Call has been in operation there since Winter 2021.

Legal industry reform is just beginning.