Utah and Arizona are the first two states to allow non-lawyer ownership of law firms. This program, which launched three years ago, is increasing access to legal services to people who typically cannot afford lawyers.

Most other states currently do not allow non-attorneys to own law firms. However, that barrier was lifted in 2021 in a decision by the Arizona Supreme Court. This decision has made it possible for nonlawyers to apply to open firms known as Alternative Business Structures (ABSs) to provide legal services in the state.

Today, this idea is gaining more interest. Hedge funds, private equity groups and other investors are exploring Arizona’s unusual opportunity to allow an equity stake in law firms.

How Does Private Equity Investment Change the Landscape for Law Firms?

Private equity has entered the legal sector, particularly through Alternative Business Structures (ABS). This shift is significant for personal injury law firms as it opens new avenues for capital infusion. As much as 40 percent of ABS-approved legal businesses are backed by private equity or hedge funds. This financial backing can offer law firms resources they can use for:

However, it also means navigating new relationships with investors who are more focused on returns than traditional legal service ethics.

What Are the Advantages of Nonlawyer Ownership in Law Firms?

Charles Platt, CEO of Cartiga, an investment firm funding civil litigation, emphasizes the efficiency and value measurement nonlawyer ownership can bring. By allowing nonlawyers to own law firms, it creates opportunities to enhance the value of legal services.

For personal injury law firms, it could lead to:

  • Improved operational efficiency
  • Better client outcomes
  • More streamlined service delivery process

Arizona’s new program is pioneering this model, testing its viability and benefits in the legal sector.

Can Alternative Business Structures Improve Access to Legal Services?

Arizona’s ABS program aims to address the lack of accessible legal services for critical needs such as evictions, divorces and immigration law. By allowing nonlawyer ownership, the program hopes to open more legal businesses that can offer affordable services.

Personal injury law firms that adopt this model could achieve more competitive pricing and innovative service delivery methods. This could help underserved populations gain access to legal representation.

What Are the Ethical Concerns Surrounding Nonlawyer Ownership?

Critics argue that nonlawyer ownership may lead to a model that prioritizes profits over clients’ best interests. There are concerns about maintaining ethical standards and ensuring that client advocacy remains the primary focus. The American Bar Association has highlighted these concerns, stating that fee sharing with nonlawyers is inconsistent with the core values of the legal profession. Personal injury law firms must consider how to balance investor interests with ethical obligations to their clients.

How Are New Law Firms Utilizing Alternative Business Structures?

The variety of services offered by new ABS law firms in Arizona is diverse. From technology platforms generating affordable court documents to firms specializing in niche areas like bounty hunting or metaverse legal issues, the scope is broad. About one-third of these firms focus on personal injury claims and mass tort litigation, attracting significant investor interest. This influx of capital can help personal injury law firms expand their reach and capabilities, making them more competitive in a crowded market.

Why Are Marketing Companies Interested in Law Firm Investments?

Marketing companies and private equity firms see value in investing in law firms, particularly those involved in mass litigation. These firms often collaborate with out-of-state law firms through fee sharing or co-counsel arrangements, leveraging their marketing expertise to attract clients for large-scale litigation. For personal injury law firms, this partnership can provide a robust pipeline of clients and cases, driving growth and profitability.

What Are the Financial Implications for Personal Injury Law Firms?

Wall Street’s involvement in financing mass litigation is not new, but Arizona’s ABS model allows investors to take equity stakes rather than offering high-interest loans. This change means investors can achieve higher returns, aligning their interests with the law firm’s success. For personal injury law firms, this can mean more substantial financial backing and reduced financial risk, enabling them to pursue larger and more complex cases.

Are There Transparency Concerns with Investor-Backed Law Firms?

The involvement of private equity and other investors raises concerns about transparency and the potential for “dark money” in the legal industry. Business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce advocate for more transparency in how the legal industry is funded.

Personal injury law firms must navigate these concerns carefully, ensuring that their funding structures are transparent and that they maintain public trust.

How Can Social Justice Initiatives Benefit from Alternative Business Structures?

ABS programs also support firms focused on social justice initiatives. For example, Rasa Legal, a platform operating in Utah and Arizona, helps people expunge criminal records at a significantly reduced cost. By allowing investors to take equity stakes, these firms can attract the capital needed to develop impactful services. Personal injury law firms can learn from these models to create more socially responsible and accessible legal services.

In short, Arizona’s ABS program is a potential game-changer for the legal industry. This new structure offers new financial opportunities and operational efficiencies for personal injury law firms.

However, ABS also brings ethical challenges and the need for greater transparency. Law firms must carefully weigh these factors to leverage the benefits of nonlawyer ownership while maintaining their commitment to client advocacy and ethical standards.