The Future Regulation of the Legal Profession: The Impact of Treating the Legal Profession as 'Service Providers'

Laurel Terry


In the past fifty years, one has heard debates about whether law is a business, a profession, or both, what these terms mean and whether it matters. Regardless of what one thinks about these debates, there is a new paradigm that must be added to the mix, which is the paradigm of lawyers as "service providers." In the "service providers" paradigm, the legal profession is not viewed as a separate, unique profession entitled to its own individual regulations, but is included in a broader group of "service providers," all of whom can be regulated together. This new paradigm represents a fundamental, seismic shift in the approach towards U.S. lawyer regulation. This perspective already has affected some aspects of U.S. (and non-U.S.) lawyer regulation and is likely to have profound implications for the future. This article reviews developments that illustrate the new "services providers" paradigm and reveals how this paradigm has and will affect who it is that regulates U.S. lawyers and how U.S. lawyers are regulated. The article argues that regulation of the U.S. legal profession in the future must take this new paradigm into account and should think about the best way to preserve that which is fundamental to the legal profession while adapting to new circumstances. The article concludes by offering concrete suggestions about processes and actions the U.S. legal profession should adopt.