A Generational Advance

Don’t you hate it when a headline gets you excited about something possibly fabulous only to let you down with the story underneath it? Here’s an example from a press release the other day: “Arizona Supreme Court Makes Generational Advance in Access to Justice.”

Generational?!?!

This has got to be good, right? Are they disbarring anyone over 70 and admitting teenagers to the bar? Are they supplying electricity to law firms?

It’s none of the above. In fact, the word “generational” or even “generation” is nowhere to be found in the story underneath the headline. What the release does say is that Arizona will now let nonlawyers do some limited legal stuff and have “economic interests in law firms.”

Utah recently started an experiment with nonlawyers doing routine legal tasks and now Arizona is apparently the first state to allow nonlawyers to own law firms.

Much of the public discussion about this so far has been whether giant accounting firms will start competing with law firms, or whether giant law firms will start competing with accounting firms, but I don’t think people have fully considered all the possibilities here.

Imagine being able to walk into Target or Walmart or generic big box store to stock up on detergent and start a lawsuit against an annoying neighbor. There’s no reason retail outlets couldn’t get into the legal business in Arizona. It’s convenient and it could be a way to revitalize shopping malls.

I’m picturing someone slipping and falling in Walmart and then limping over to Macy’s to file suit. There’s no reason to delay justice.

Or how about fast law? A client could get a burger and a divorce without a leaving his or her car. With the new rule about nonlawyers doing stuff, the same person flipping the burger could fill out an eviction notice.

Banks are a natural environment for lawyers. Bank branches already have lots of desks and, with ATMs and mobile deposits, they’re nowhere near as busy as they used to be. A customer could open an account and plan an estate at the same time. Your teller could tell you how to fight a parking ticket.

My favorite possibility, though, is the legal improv group. This consists of a troupe of comedians, actors and lawyers who perform in front of audiences of potential clients. Performers take audience suggestions of a place, a relationship and a kind of lawsuit, and then show us the consequences.

You can pass out business cards after the show.

Bull zone. I will confess to you right away that I know absolutely nothing about Elks lodges. I’ve pictured them as clubs with heads on the walls and guys with moustaches in safari outfits, but that could be a total fantasy.

Be that as it may, the Elks official name — the “Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks of the United States of America, Inc.” — may be a subject of debate. What exactly are these guys protecting? It’s definitely not women’s rights.

I bring this up in light of a ruling last week by a divided Texas appeals court panel in which we learn that the “Grand Lodge” of the Elks revoked the charter of a local lodge in Austin after it elected a woman as “Exalted Ruler.” So much for benevolence and protection.

The legal dispute, in case you’re wondering, was over who owned property that the rogue Austin lodge used before it transformed from an Elks lodge into “The High Road on Dawson.”

Taking the high road is never easy.

I don’t know what to make of the property dispute, but I’m happy to report that I’ve learned something new because I looked it up: male elk are called bulls. Insert your own joke here.

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