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Democratizing the Delivery of Legal Services

NCJ Number
Ohio State Law Journal Volume: 73 Issue: 1 Dated: 2012 Pages: 1-46
Renee Newman Knake
Date Published
46 pages
This article examines the legal argument for allowing corporations to own law firms.
At present, professional conduct rules in all 50 States and the District of Columbia ban corporations from owning or investing in law firms, thus making the delivery of legal services highly ineffective and inefficient. This article uses the first amendment and the U.S. Supreme Court's recent ruling in Citizens United v. FEC to make the case that corporations should be allowed to own law firms. As things currently stand, lawyers are not in a position to deliver cost-effective services unless they are affiliated with a private law firm, and conversely many Americans cannot afford legal services due to the lawyer's cost of doing business. The author argues that current conduct rules prohibiting corporate ownership of law firms are in effect a form of speech restriction that compromises access to the law and thus are contradictory to the free speech protections afforded under the first amendment. As a result of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings, most notably NAACP v. Button, Bates v. State Bar, and Citizens United v. FEC, first amendment jurisprudence has evolved to the point that it could be used to support the idea that barring corporations from delivering legal services is a restriction of their right to free speech. To support this argument, the author examines relevant professional conduct rules, provides a detailed review of the U.S. Supreme Court's precedent supporting the corporation's first amendment right to deliver legal services, and summarizes proposals for corporate ownership of and investment in law practices.