Currently, there is no rule in Florida preventing nonlawyer ownership of law firms. However, in the District of Columbia, there is a small minority of firms with nonlawyer ownership, including lobbyists and public relations specialists. While the Special Committee is unlikely to approve an ethics rule change anytime soon, it does support a law firm owned by someone other than an attorney. If a state passes a similar law, the practice may become widespread.
The American Bar Association recently proposed a rule allowing non-lawyers to own a law firm. The rule is controversial, but not impossible to follow. Attorneys can’t give loans to clients or become partners with an outside legal practitioner. And they cannot have separate clients from their law firm. Even if they do, they are not allowed to give out personal loans or help their clients with debts masstamilanfree .
Although the Utah case demonstrates that it can be done, most jurisdictions aren’t yet ready to follow suit. In Florida, the Florida Bar Board of Governors unanimously rejected proposed changes to Rule 5.4. While the Supreme Court largely agreed, other jurisdictions have yet to pass such a rule. For now, the District of Columbia remains the only jurisdiction where nonlawyer owners can have a limited ownership stake in a law firm.
New York state law prohibits lawyers from sharing their legal fees with nonlawyer owners. The rule 5.4 (a) prohibits lawyers from practicing with an entity authorized to practice law for profit. While ABA Op. 464 is a great step towards ensuring lawyers’ independence, it still presents some challenges for nonlawyer owners. The committee is currently developing rules and regulations on this topic. In the meantime, it is important to note that a New York lawyer cannot own a law firm unless it is owned by another lawyer.
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