The U.S. legal profession is in need of innovation and innovation comes from open, collaborative, and diverse environments. Yet, the rules regulating the U.S. legal profession foster a closed environment, one that discourages nonlawyer influence on lawyers and alliances between legal and non-legal professionals. The Model Rules of Professional Conduct, the bar licensing requirements, the application of the work- product doctrine and attorney-client privilege, and even the way law firms structure themselves consistently impede an open multi-disciplinary approach. Instead, they favor a closed environment and/or an exclusive one-on-one relationship between attorneys and their clients. In some way or another, they support the notion that when lawyers work with nonlawyers, there are too many cooks in the kitchen.
In light of our growing understanding of other fields, it may be time to reexamine some of these rules and their underlying assumptions. First, they do not represent the way many U.S. lawyers actually practice. Second, in an economic downturn, where the line between what is business and what is law is anything but clear, such tactics may limit lawyers’ range of business opportunities. Instead of protecting lawyers’ economic futures, it may provide the impetus for nonlawyers, who want a piece of the lawyers’ pie, to innovate. Essentially, an environment that fosters input from nonlawyers is better than a closed one and the legal profession’s continued attachment to rules and structures that compel closed environments and severely restrict the influence of nonlawyers on lawyers (at least in the commercial context) may leave the U.S. legal profession woefully behind other countries, and U.S. lawyers with a smaller piece of the pie.