By Kirstin Jensvold-Rumage
On November 2, 2020, the State Bar of California Board of Trustees Executive Committee approved the Board’s Appointments Liaisons’ recommended slate of two officers and sixteen members to the Closing the Justice Gap Working Group (CTJG Working Group). The Board authorized the formation of the CTJG Working Group at its meeting on May 14, 2020, in response to the report and recommendations of the Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Legal Services (ATILS), and authorized the Executive Committee to make the final appointments at its September 24, 2020 meeting. [25:1 CRLR 88–90] The Board formed the ATILS Task Force in October 2018 to identify possible regulatory changes to enhance the delivery of and access to legal services. [24:2 CRLR 119]
At its July 16, 2020 meeting, the Board voted to adopt the CTJG Working Group’s charter, charging it with examining the propriety of relaxing rules regarding the unauthorized practice of law, including developing of a regulatory sandbox and considering amendments to Rule 5.4 regarding fee sharing with non-lawyer entities. In addition, the Working Group is charged with assessing concepts for amendments to the California Rules of Professional Conduct governing lawyer advertising and solicitation and fee-sharing with nonlawyers, and to the statutes and Rules of the State Bar governing Certified Lawyer Referral Services. Finally, the Working Group is charged with evaluating a draft proposed new Rule 5.7 of the California Rules of Professional Conduct that was included in the final ATILS report. The charter requires that the Working Group “balance the dual goals of ensuring public protection and increasing access to legal services for all Californians” when carrying out its assignments.
As it is proposed in the ATILS final report and recommendations, the regulatory sandbox is designed to function as a laboratory for the innovation of accessible legal services, where the group can experiment with legal delivery systems on a smaller scale, collect data, and then analyze the systems’ impacts. The sandbox works as pilot program, aimed to control and mitigate potential risks while testing new rules.
In appointing members to the CTJG Working Group, the Board approved a specific group makeup which set forth roles to be filled, such as a Technology Expert, Legal Ethics Expert, Consumer of Legal Services, and a member who previously served on the ATILS Task Force. Some roles are appointed by outside organizations, such as the California Lawyers Association and the Consumer Attorneys of California. The resolution also allowed for a member from the Utah Regulatory Reform Task Force, formed by the Utah Supreme Court in 2019 to implement Utah’s own legal regulatory sandbox.
Appointments include: Regulator, Crispin Passmore, former Executive Director of the Solicitors Regulation Authority in England who now works as an advisor for regulators in creating alternative business structures and multidisciplinary practices; Legal Ethics Expert, Kevin Mohr, who previously served on the ATILS Task Force and as a Special Advisor to the California State Bar Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct; Consumer of Legal Services, Kathy Hoang, Senior Director of Data, Evaluation and Development for YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles; and previous ATILS Task Force Member, Bridget Fogarty Gramme, Director of the Center for Public Interest Law at the University of San Diego School of Law.
The approved resolution included a provision that allows the Board to appoint additional non-voting advisors, as necessary, for the CTJG Working Group to fulfill its obligations, such as a consumer legal services focus group. The current CTJG Working Group chair and members will serve their term until December 31, 2022.