Should Law Firms be Owned by Non-Lawyers?

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Fall 2012 Willamette Lawyer Cover

Mark C. Hoyt was interviewed for his thoughts by the Ethics Corner department in the latest edition of the Willamette University College of Law’s alumni magazine, Willamette Lawyer.


In light of the financial difficulties facing law firms, is it time to allow these firms to be owned by non-lawyers?

No, at least not because of financial pressures.  As lawyers, we have a unique place within society.  As Shakespeare noted, in many ways we are the gatekeepers of stability and access to justice.  As such, we answer to high ethical standards, which require us to place the interests of clients ahead of profit.  If, for the sake of relieving financial pressure, law firms are sold to outside investors, profit (which, let’s be real, is a motivator in every law firm any investor would be interested in owning) would be moved in front of our ethical obligations.  Thus, decisions related to protecting our client’s interests could fall prey to pure profit motives with decision makers who answer to no code of ethics.  Allowing investment to relieve financial pressures does not warrant such risks.  But should outside investors be able to buy and operate law firms like HMOs to make legal services more available to a broader spectrum of clients?  That would seem to pose another question!

– Mark C. Hoyt JD’92, managing partner at Sherman Sherman Johnnie & Hoyt, LLP

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