The column is titled The World is Flat ... and What That Means to You. That sounded like an intriguing title, and the first part of the column talked about how globalization is affecting the practice of law and about the offshore outsourcing of legal jobs. Interesting so far.
But then, rather than challenging the legal profession to find innovative ways to compete and provide better client service in a new world, the author makes an abrupt segue into a diatribe about the unauthorized practice of law.
"The globalization of the practice of law hits home in several areas of long-standing concern for the State Bar: the unauthorized practice of law (UPL), multidisciplinary practice (MDP), and multijurisdictional practice (MJP). Whether we like it or not, lawyers and nonlawyers in other locales, as well as members of other professions, appear ready and willing to step in and do the work that Wisconsin lawyers are currently doing. These persons may or may not have the ability to recognize all of the legal issues involved in that work and, unfortunately, sometimes the public will be harmed. We must do whatever we can to avoid or minimize the potential for such harm."
The rest of the article is devoted almost entirely to a discussion of UPL and potential harm to the public, and it concludes "Regulation of the practice of law by lawyers is often criticized as 'protectionism.' In reality, however, it is not only the legal profession, but also the public, that is harmed by the unauthorized practice of law by nonlawyers." Ok. Protecting the public is a legitimate issue, but this has very little to do with the original topic of globalization and nothing at all to do with determining who (or what expert system) is in the best position to provide high quality, cost-effective services or information to a given consumer, whether the services or information are characterized as "legal services" or not.
Connecting a discussion about globalization and competition to a discussion about UPL indicates to me that the real issue is "we need to protect our turf against the foreigners and real estate agents and others who want to cut into our business."
Competition if a fact of life we all have to live with, and competition is certainly going to force changes in the practice of law. Overall, that's probably going to be a good thing from the perspective of the public. There will be examples where the public is harmed (but that's hardly unique to nonlawyers), but in general the public will be better off with greater competition. The legal profession should be focusing on improving its ability to compete by providing services the public wants at a price they are willing to pay -- and this will require us to rethink the way the legal profession itself works. Isn't that a better use of our time and energy than trying to to stop the inevitable march of competition under the guise of UPL?