The Utah Supreme Court has given approval to a new category of legal professional called “limited paralegal practitioners,” who are authorized to help clients fill out and file documents, but not allowed to appear in court.
Designed to lower the cost of basic legal services and address the state’s legal services gap, the limited paralegal practitioners, or “LLPs” for short, are likely to help clients with simple matters — such as filing for divorce, settling debts, and resolving eviction issues — instances where they otherwise might not be able to afford an attorney.
“Lawyers have been incredibly generous with their time, and are trying to address [those issues] through pro bono measures,” Supreme Court Justice Deno Himonas told the Salt Lake Tribune on Monday. “But at the end of the day, though, we need to come up with an economically viable model that will help improve access for those individuals in our civil justice system.”
The decision comes after the Supreme Court set up a task force to examine the pros and cons of limited legal licensing, which submitted a 58-page report in November that recommended the court authorize LLPs.
On Monday, the task force met with members of the Utah Judicial Council, the state judiciary’s policy-making committee, and the idea was approved. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the court will form a committee to work out the details of how the LPP program will be implemented.
According to the task force report, LPPs should have a law degree; or an associate degree with a paralegal certificate, paralegal certification, paralegal experience and additional coursework in their practice area.
Nationwide, the limited legal practitioner concept is gaining traction, but is also controversial: This summer, Washington state approved its first class of limited legal technicians; in November, members the state’s Practice of Law Board resigned in mass after repeated clashes with the state bar over the legal technicians.
As in Washington, Utah’s bar leaders may have a hard time garnering support from lawyers, some of whom stand to lose business to LPPs. According to the task force report, 60 percent of lawyers surveyed by the Utah State Bar either disagreed or strongly disagreed with a proposal to explore granting limited practitioner licenses.