It’s no secret that the legal support profession is changing the industry. And with the introduction of one state’s newest role, licensed paralegal practitioners, those changes can have a greater impact on access to justice than ever before.
About Utah’s licensed paralegal practitioner
In November of 2018, the Utah Supreme Court adopted amendments to the state’s Rule 14-802, which outlines exactly who is allowed to practice law in Utah. These new rules create a new role, that of “licensed paralegal practitioners” (or LPPs).
Essentially an LPP is a legal professional with more training and responsibility than a normal paralegal. Although an LPP is not able to do everything an attorney does, nevertheless he or she provides a more affordable option to people trying to navigate the state’s court system. Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew Durrant recently compared the state’s new class of legal professionals to medical nurse practitioners.
To launch the newly formed LPP program, classes to license LPPs are being held at Utah Valley University in Orem. The first exams will potentially be administered in the spring of 2019, and these professionals will begin practicing in the state during the coming year.
Other states utilizing the limited licensing model
Utah is not the first state to explore limited licensing for legal professionals:
- Washington State pioneered the limited license model with its Limited License Legal Technician (LLLT) program in 2012.
- In New York City, volunteers help clients navigate the city’s housing court and offer individual help to litigants without an attorney, These volunteers can even accompany them to courtrooms in Bronx, New York, Kings, and Queens County Housing Court and Bronx Civil Court.
- In Colorado, so-called “Sherlocks” assist self-represented litigants in finding pro bono services, apprise them of court rules, explain their legal options, and review documents before hearings to ascertain that they meet procedural requirements.
- Oregon is the most recent state to head in this direction, and is currently considering LLLT programming to license so-called paraprofessionals.
What do LPPs do?
An LPP is equipped to offer significant (and generally more affordable) help to clients attempting to navigate the legal system. Generally, they will not be able to represent clients in court, which is also true of traditional paralegals.
According to the American Bar Association (ABA), licensed non-lawyers in Utah will be allowed to practice law in these three limited areas:
- Family law matters involving temporary separation, divorce, parentage, cohabitant abuse, civil stalking, custody, support, and name change;
- Forcible entry and detainer cases;
- Debt collection cases where the dollar amount at issue is not in excess of the statutory limit for small claims matters.
Although they will not be authorized to appear in court on behalf of their clients, LLPs will be able to assist clients in a variety of ways, such as:
- Conducting client interviews to obtain pertinent facts and understand their objectives.
- Helping with the selection, completion, execution, filing, and service of approved legal forms and any documents necessary to support them.
- Evaluating and explaining the meaning of documents from the court or another party.
- Informing, counseling, assisting, and advocating for a client’s interests in mediation.
- Finalizing settlement agreements after a negotiation has concluded.
- Explaining how a court order will affect a client’s legal rights and responsibilities.
Similar to attorneys, LPPs will be held accountable to all the rules of professional ethics, be required to hold client funds in trust accounts, and will be obligated to provide pro bono services. They will also need to complete a minimum of 12 hours of continuing education every two years, which must include three hours of ethics and professionalism.
Challenges moving forward?
Although the new LPP career is expected to vastly improve the accessibility of legal services in the state of Utah, the program still faces some challenges.
According to a 2015 report by the Futures Commission of the Utah State Bar, at the time, enough lawyers were being educated and licensed to meet the state’s legal needs. Thus, steps to connect those who need lawyers with lawyers to serve them could alternately solve the accessibility problem.
Also, there is still some doubt as to whether there will be a viable market for LPPs in Utah, particularly in rural areas, and whether their rates will be still be too high for some clients.
It is likely too soon to judge the effectiveness of the limited legal licensing model. Still, according to the ABA Journal, a 2017 study of Washington’s LLLT program found general satisfaction with LLLTs, growth in the number of professionals obtaining the license, and increased acceptance of the concept by attorneys. However, the researchers also recognized educational, regulatory, and business challenges that will likely be faced by other states adopting similar programs.