Unbundling Legal Services The Latest Twist

In recent years I have blogged about the ethical dilemmas and potential malpractice exposure for lawyers who choose to unbundle legal services. As interested readers know, some states have “bona fide office rules” which prohibit or greatly limit operation of a virtual law practice.  While unbundling and virtual practice are not the same, they are connected and frequently co-exist.

This leads me to a significant change that occurred this summer when the Oregon State Bar overhauled its lawyer referral policies.

Prior to July 1, 2012, the OSB LRS policy was clear:  Absent a physical office, lawyers practicing “virtually” were not eligible to receive referrals. The inability of virtual practitioners participate in the LRS referral system stemmed from both practice and policy – LRS clients were told to expect an “in-office” consultation; LRS Policy E(3) provided:

“No duplicate registrations shall be made outside of the city where the attorney maintains his or her practice unless: a) the attorney maintains a second physical location where attorney-client meetings may take place; or b) the attorney’s office is located within two (2) miles of the border between two locations.”

In other words, Oregon had a “bona fide office rule” – at least in the sense that virtual practitioners could not use the OSB LRS as a source for clients.

Three months ago, this all changed.

When the bar revamped the Lawyer Referral Service, it eliminated the physical location requirement.  In fact, the bar now permits statewide and territorial registration regardless of the lawyer’s physical office location.  Additionally, lawyers have tremendous flexibility in controlling exactly where and how they receive referrals:

  • Lawyers who register statewide can opt out of “entire territories;”
  • Lawyers who register for specific territories can opt out of particular counties, cities, or towns “within the territories” for which they are registered;
  • Lawyers can limit territories for each area of law (practice bankruptcy statewide, but limit criminal law referrals to a specific location)

Quite a development!  Along with Washington’s Limited Practice Rule for Limited License Legal Technicians (LLLTs) effective September 1, 2012, I’d say we’re in for some interesting times ahead.

Copyright 2012 Beverly Michaelis