ABS Update: More Lawyers Skeptical that Non-Lawyer-Owned Firms Will Benefit Clients

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When adopted in the practice of law, alternative business structures (ABS) allow for private shareholders and non-lawyers to own majority stakes in law firms. In several recent posts on the Gluckstein Lawyers blog, we've discussed the conflicts of interest to which ABS could give rise.

Lawyers in Ontario continue to debate whether to adopt an ABS model, though many bar groups have expressed their opposition to ABS.  Charles Gluckstein, of Gluckstein Lawyers, is the immediate past-president of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association.

In a recent issue of The Lawyers Weekly, he emphasized why the OTLA maintains its anti-ABS stance: "that there is not enough empirical evidence that access to justice is improved in an environment where non-lawyers control law firms."

ABS models have been adopted in Australia and the U.K., but as Gluckstein points out, "The crisis that brought about the change leading to ABS in Australia and the U.K. is not the same situation in Canada."

The OTLA is far from being alone in its opposition to ABS. Bar groups representing lawyers in various practice areas throughout the province have expressed skepticism about a business model that could turn law firms into publicly traded companies.

The concern is that a non-lawyer-controlled law firm could prioritize profits over the best interests of clients. The lines dividing those in favour ABS and those opposed to them are in some ways generational.

The Law Students' Society of Ontario is virtually alone in supporting the adoption of alternative business structures.

The latest issue of The Lawyers Weekly has more on this important debate, which is bound to figure largely in the Law Society of Upper Canada's bencher elections in April.




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