Whether alternative business structures might improve access to justice for low- to moderate-income clients remains a contentious matter.8 Because alternative business structures are generally unavailable, lawyers rely on 501(c)(3) non-profit status and sliding-scale fee structures to reach an underserved market of low-to moderate-income clientele. Nevertheless, use of a sliding- scale fee structure is rare—perhaps because it fails to maximize law firm profits. A sliding-scale fee structure also does not assist clients who need legal services, but do not qualify for LSC-funded programs and are unable to pay even a portion of subsidized legal fees.
This Note addresses why using a non-profit model to provide legal services to low- to moderate-income clientele is necessarily self-limiting. This Note further suggests that alternative business structures permitting non-lawyer ownership and operation of law firms are a more effective and efficient means to reach a presently underserved market.
Part II provides a background about Model Rule 5.4 and discusses theories and rationales for why the legal profession in the United States refuses to compromise on deeply entrenched biases against nonlawyer ownership or management of law firms. Part III considers the methods and structures of non-profit law firms currently serving low- to moderate-income clientele and highlights specific examples of similarities and distinctions between varying legal markets. Part IV offers reasons why serving moderate-income clientele through a non-profit model is a self-limiting and ultimately inadequate way of expanding access to justice for a presently underserved market. Finally, Part V advocates permitting non-lawyer ownership and management of law firms. By utilizing business-sector expertise and economies of scale, lawyers can improve access to justice for low- to moderate-income clientele. This Note identifies Wills as a specific practice area already making such a transition.
R. Matthew Black,
Extra Law Prices: Why MRPC 5.4 Continues to Needlessly Burden Access to Civil Justice for Low- to Moderate-Income Clients,
25 Wash. & Lee J. Civ. Rts. & Soc. Just. 499
Available at: https://scholarlycommons.law.wlu.edu/crsj/vol25/iss2/6
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