The three most important values

India’s recent decision to bar foreign lawyers is a reminder that in the months and years ahead jurisdictions all over the world will face a similar decision:  to what extent, if any, should lawyers not licensed in that jurisdiction be permitted to practice in that jurisdiction?

To the extent that cross jurisdiction practice is perceived to be more efficient and cost effective, there will be commercial pressure to permit it, pressure to remove traditional barriers that the marketplace does not understand and does not wish to pay for.  Those barriers such as conflict of interest rules, rules prohibiting multi-disciplinary practices and and rules prohibiting non-lawyer ownership of law firms reflect traditional values within the legal profession.

What the marketplace wants, the marketplace is likely to get, especially as more jurisdictions loosen the rules governing the practice of law.  The pressure to follow suit – to enable lawyers in one’s own jurisdiction to compete with lawyers in other, more permissive jurisdictions – will grow quickly.

In the contest between traditional values and the trend toward technological convenience and fewer restrictions on what lawyers (and non-lawyers) may do for a fee, there will be – already is – discussion about what traditional values must be preserved.

In my view the three most important values – values that must be preserved – are competence, trust and accountability.  If there is a way to preserve those values and to loosen traditional restrictions on the practice of law, then I think traditional restrictions  will have to be loosened or lifted.

I wonder who will control the public debate – assuming there is one – about what legal regulation should look like in the 21st century.  My guess is that clients large and small will only care about competence, trust and accountability …. and, of course, the cost of services.