August 31, 2020
While much of this summer has been focused on court reactions to COVID, that has not stopped judicial leaders from addressing other issues related to access to courts and justice. Three states in particular have made moves to address non-traditional legal services and service providers.
Arizona: The state's supreme court voted to approve two key recommendations coming from the Court’s Task Force on the Delivery of Legal Services. The first allows nonlawyer “Legal Paraprofessionals” (LPs), to provide limited legal services to the public, including being able to go into court with their client. The second eliminates the rule prohibiting fee sharing and prohibiting nonlawyers from having economic interests in law firms. Information on the changes can be found at www.azcourts.gov/accesstolegalservices/
Utah: The state's supreme court unanimously approved several changes to the way that legal services can be offered. The first is the creation of an “Office of Legal Services Innovation” that will oversee a regulatory “sandbox” (sandbox.utcourts.gov) in which non-traditional legal providers and services can be offered. Those plans could include different combinations for offering legal services, such as
- Lawyers in partnership with other professionals such as accountants or social workers.
- Lawyers working as staff attorneys for companies offering legal services to the public. Such companies could include legal technology companies, consumer-focused companies such as banks, or retail establishments.
- Legal services, including legal advice, facilitated by technology or by nonlawyer experts.
Washington: The state's supreme court voted 7-2 to allow the 8-year-old Limited License Legal Technician program to sunset. The announcement came in the form of a letter by the state's Chief Justice which read in part
The program was an innovative attempt to increase access to legal services. However, after careful consideration of the overall costs of sustaining the program and the small number of interested individuals, a majority of the court determined that the LLLT program is not an effective way to meet these needs, and voted to sunset the program.
In a written dissent, Justice Barbara A. Madsen was critical of the decision to eliminate the program.
National Center work in this area has focused on both court programs as well as Limited License Legal Technicians in particular. In 2017 NCSC in its Preliminary Evaluation of the Washington State Limited License Legal Technician Program found that "Creating similar programs in other states would clearly improve access to justice for a broad section of the public." Moreover, in 2016 NCSC's Roles Beyond Lawyers examined court-operated pilot projects that used trained personnel to assist those coming to court and found these "navigator programs…can result in financial savings to society as well as a reduction in the hardships experienced by unrepresented litigants in civil cases."