Monday, January 11, 2016

Utah getting close to allowing non-lawyers to provide some legal services

 As I have argued before, the "hottest" issue in professional responsibility today is the notion of "innovation" which is shorthand for a discussion on new approaches to providing legal services.  And one of the most important recent developments on the subject was the approval of a proposal in Washington state to allow (and to regulate) the provision of limited legal services by state certified legal technicians (known as Limited License Legal Technicians, or LLLTs).  I discussed this development here, here and, most recently, here.

Once Washington approved its program at least seven other states—California, Colorado, Connecticut, Minnesota, Oregon, Vermont and Virginia—have created task forces to study the possibility of limited licensing as a partial solution to the so-called “access to justice gap.” But Utah is the only jurisdiction where such a task force, which received its charge from its state supreme court, has finalized a recommendation.

Based on the recommendation, the Utah Supreme Court has given preliminary approval to a program that would authorize “licensed paralegal practitioners” (LPPs) to engage in the practice of law on a limited basis by performing discrete legal tasks in specified practice areas.  The Court will now form a committee to make recommendations on numerous unresolved details—including the scope of the services LPPs will be allowed to perform, the practice areas they will be confined to and the regulatory framework for licensing LPPs and overseeing their conduct.

The recommendation urges to the court to authorize LPPs to perform limited tasks in three practice areas: family law, eviction and debt collection within which they would be allowed to provide limited client counseling, help with forms, represent a client in mediated negotiations, explain another party's documents and prepare settlement agreements, among other things.

Interestingly, although not surprisingly, the task force expects there will be significant “opposition from lawyers” which could be one “barrier to establishing a paraprofessional program.” Sixty percent of those responding to a 2015 survey said they disagree with the proposal, with many expressing concerns that the public needs access to qualified counsel, rather than to unqualified counsel in what is a highly complex area of the law which can impact the client significantly for years to come.

For more information, you can check out the ABA/BNA Lawyers' Manual on Professional Responsibility, 31 Law. Man. Prof. Conduct 760.

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