The role of non-lawyer could change in Arizona beginning as soon as 2021. But they have been influencing the legal industry for decades.
The Arizona State Bar Association and the Arizona Supreme Court are considering changing the involvement of non-lawyers in the ownership of law firms and in providing certain legal services.
The Arizona Task Force on the Delivery of Legal Services, proposes rule changes that include dropping the rule forbidding non-lawyer ownership stakes in law firms and legal services operations. The state isn’t alone. California and Utah are also considering similar rules, as well as to those that define the unauthorized practice of law. But Arizona may be the first state to effect changes—and its changes could do the most to shake up the system.
Some say eliminating Arizona’s Ethical Rule 5.4 could make legal services more affordable. Others have expressed concern about loosening such rules, which exist in states across the United States because of potential business conflicts regarding non-lawyer owners which could emerge.
Regardless of the ultimate rule-change outcomes, with the emergence of alternate legal providers and technology, the role of non-lawyers is and will continue to expand.
In our first ever cover story featuring a non-lawyer, we meet someone who deeply “gets” the industry, having seen it from all sides. Meet Paul Ward, a non-lawyer who has had a big impact on the legal industry over the past 20 years as an Arizona-based legal recruiter, marketer and business strategist.
“I’ve known Paul in all three of his areas of focus,” says Phillip Guttilla, Phoenix office managing partner at the national law firm Polsinelli. “He was my client, so I knew him as a business strategist. I was his client, so I knew him as a marketer and business developer for law firms, and he has recruited for us and brought us some amazing candidates for consideration. He’s an impact player, there is no doubt.”
This is a common refrain from the lawyers who have worked with Paul Ward. And Ward says his role dwarfs in comparison to what he sees other “nons,” do every day. “In every firm I’ve ever been with, there has been great synergy between lawyers and non-lawyers in delivering legal services. Roles are changing and new business models are emerging, but there are tens of thousands of heroic “nons” who have made the industry go from the start,” Ward says.
Let’s forget that Ward co-founded the now massively trafficked website law.com with three local attorneys (Charlie Davis, Scott Gillette and Bruce Whiting); forget that he co-founded Arizona’s first privately funded tech incubator; forget that he was communications lead in the famous Erin Brockovich legal case, or that he was among the country’s first law firm chief marketing officers at the Orrick law firm in San Francisco; and among the country’s first if not the first non-lawyer chief client innovation officer for a 500-lawyer national law firm – charged with helping transform the practice of law. Ward would rather talk about today.
Whether he’s working on digital marketing initiatives or access to justice programs with the Davis Miles McGuire Gardner law firm in Tempe (co-founded by his former business partner Charlie Davis), co-producing the Is That Even Legal podcast with attorney host Robert Sewell, or advising legal startups such as Fenix.AI, in Boulder, Colorado – a patent drafting and filing automation company – Ward is clearly looking forward, not back.
“Law is at the heart of commerce. It is basically at the heart of everything we do in society. Non-lawyers have always been a critical part of how legal services are provided, from legal secretaries to administrators to financial advisors and marketers, to intake professionals and technologists. What is happening now is the confluence of two massive forces on the industry and the world itself: rapid technological transformation and a deep societal need for access to justice.”
Ward says that means non-lawyers – including in new roles ranging from project managers to data scientists, will continue to play a bigger and bigger role in some areas of the delivery of legal services – either within law firms, companies, or as competitors to traditional law firms.
TWO MAJOR FORCES COLLIDING TO DRIVE CHANGE IN LAW
“With my startup hat on, we used to have to beg for investment in anything legal related,” Ward says. “Investors did not see massive room for growth. Not so today. Today there are venture funds focused strictly on legal innovation and transformation, representing hundreds of millions of dollars in investments.”
Ward says all aspects of legal service delivery are in one stage or another of being disrupted. From algorithms accessed by chatbots that can calculate the value of a personal injury case; to artificially intelligent agents that can write and file patents; to blockchain applications providing data governance and data compliance tracking solutions for companies; to even the way legal work is purchased, change is rapid.
And while individuals can now talk to their law firm and even pay their legal bills via text, giant corporations increasingly will be able to use platforms to procure legal services through bidding processes driving down their legal costs and driving big law firms to be ever more creative in their pricing and pitching – a process that Ward says is where lawyers, operations experts and financial teams usually combine on both sides of the buy-sell equation.
“With my marketing hat on, I see continued rise of sophisticated tools for us to use, and the ability to have real time data to know whether something is working or not,” Ward says. Websites are becoming less digital brochures and more interactive platforms that provide good information and access to lawyers. There has never been higher demand for good digital marketers. I know some folks with law degrees who are awesome at it. Others know the legal business and help lawyers rapidly scale their practices.”
From a recruiting standpoint, Ward sees continued emphasis on making law firms better environments for lawyers and – with more emphasis on human fit, and not just financial fit. Lawyers are looking as much to fulfill their original ideals – make the world a better place through law – as they are simply looking for financial gain, he says. Firms and companies must provide diverse, supportive environments that provide for growth paths for lawyers and non-lawyers alike.
While COVID-19 has put all jobs in a bit of a commotion, Ward predicts the race for top talent in legal, both lawyer and non-lawyer alike, will always be fierce. He notes that his work in recruiting partners for national firms has slowed, but not stopped as part of the financial slowdown. Just as in marketing, smart firms and companies move aggressively on the recruiting end during a time when their competitors may be sluggish.
WHAT INCREASING ROLES OF NON-LAWYERS COULD MEAN FOR THE FUTURE
“Non-lawyers have all kinds of views on this I suppose,” Ward says. “In my view, no matter what kinds of processes we improve and solutions we create to make lawyers more accessible and their jobs more rewarding and their clients lives easier … lawyers will always be at the heart of providing legal services. There is an application of wisdom and judgement and nuance that are simply irreplaceable,” he says.
Still Ward says traditional roles of both lawyers and business people will continue to evolve and change. Ward says it goes both ways … business people being more involved in the legal industry, and lawyers with key skills being highly valued by business. One law firm managing partner with whom Ward worked with in Phoenix for five years, Rudy Parga (who was the first ever lawyer featured on the cover of this magazine), is now the CEO of a technology firm. “Rudy is the personification of a lawyer/leader who gets business and uses his legal acumen to help companies. His own and his customers.”
Parga returns the compliment.
“Paul understands the business of law and lawyers. He epitomizes the synergy of how lawyers and non- lawyer pros can and should work together,” Parga says.
Because of his unique experience, Ward says his personal future may not change much regardless of any rule changes regarding law firm ownership.
“We work our entire careers to find people we work with who click with our passions and personalities, when those are in sync, everything else works out,” he says. Ward cites bankruptcy attorney Pernell McGuire as an example in a long list of attorneys with whom he loves to work.
“Integrity is everything when I work with a firm,” he says.
With his recruiting hat on, he sees some possible changes in the industry overall. “I have heard from investor groups who may want to purchase law practices in the future and combine legal opportunities with other services someday. They already are thinking about how that would work. I also know some sales professional who, if they could be compensated as they are in other professional services – getting a percentage of the fees they help bring into a firm – would find law firms more attractive than they are at the moment for that business development/sales role, because fees cannot be split. I have lost some good candidates in other markets over the years because they could not be compensated on their ‘sales,’ in a simple formula.”
One thing that will likely continue to accelerate nationwide is expanded recognition of the vital role of non-lawyers in the industry, according to Ward. Alternative legal service providers, sometimes led by non-lawyers, are increasingly carving into the market share of traditional law firms. Outside of the United States, accounting firms comprise the largest “law firms,” globally. But that does not mean law firms are going to go away in Ward’s view. He believes they are just going to become more nimble, more creative and better.
“I have been very fortunate in my career to never have felt a divide between myself and the lawyers. I have always had amazing lawyers around me who see me and treat me as a professional and who have skillsets and vision very complimentary to my own. So I love being a small part of always trying to perfect the law firm model, even as waves of change come. Although I never went to law school, and always wanted to be a business journalist, I just have an unusual toolbox.”
According to Bryan Pratt, an IP partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney who counts the world’s largest technology companies as his clients, and who worked with Paul at a prior law firm, “unusual,” is a good thing.
“Paul’s combination of skills, in marketing innovation and recruiting makes him like a Leatherman or a Mac Book Pro for helping law firms solve problems,” said Pratt.