Closing the Justice Gap
In an effort to close the justice gap, Utah is poised to become the second state to license paralegals to practice law in limited circumstances. In November, the Utah Supreme Court is expected to approve and enact the final rules for a new class of legal professionals, called licensed paralegal practitioners (LPPs), who will provide legal advice and assistance to clients in certain areas of law without the supervision of a lawyer. This would make Utah the second state to use paralegals in place of lawyers to provide under-served clients with access to more affordable legal services in specific areas. Washington initiated a similar program in 2015.
The LPP program follows recommendations from a 2015 Utah Supreme Court-appointed task force that examined Washington’s limited license legal technician (LLLT) program and recommended in a November 2015 report that the Supreme Court “exercise its constitutional authority to govern the practice of law to create a subset of discrete legal services that can be provided by a licensed paralegal practitioner.” The task force found that LPPs would improve access to affordable legal services by offering a cheaper alternative for Utahans who can’t afford a lawyer or don’t want to spend money on one.
In late 2015, the Utah Supreme Court approved the LPP program and, in turn, amended Utah’s Rule 14-802 to change the definition of whom is authorized to practice law in the state. LPPs will be able to provide legal advice and assistance to clients in three distinct areas that the task force found to have the greatest need and highest number of self-represented litigants: debt collection, eviction cases, and certain family law matters.
The exception defines permissible actions for LPPs within these practice areas, including the ability to hold independent contractual relationships with clients to perform certain services, like completing and filing court documents, advising clients how a court order affects their rights and obligations, representing clients in settlement negotiations, and helping clients prepare a written settlement agreement. However, LPPs will not be authorized to represent clients in court.
Educational and Professional Requirements
Under the Rules Governing Licensed Paralegal Practitioner (RGLPP 15-703), an LPP applicant must have a degree in law from an accredited law school; an associate degree in paralegal studies from an accredited school; a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies from an accredited school; or a paralegal certificate – or fifteen hours of paralegal studies from an accredited school – in addition to a bachelor’s degree in any subject from an accredited school.
An LPP applicant is required to complete 1,500 hours of substantive law-related experience within the three years prior to the application in the areas in which they will seek to practice (e.g., family law, debt collection, or forcible entry and detainer), and to pass a professional ethics examination and a Licensed Paralegal Practitioner Examination for each relevant practice area. There is a provision (RGLPP 15-705) that allows the bar to waive some of the minimum education requirements if an applicant demonstrates that he or she has completed seven years of full-time substantive law-related experience as a paralegal within the previous ten years.
LPPs will follow rules of professional ethics like lawyers, including holding client funds in trust accounts and providing services pro bono. LPPs will be required to complete, during each two fiscal year period (July 1 through June 30), a minimum of 12 hours of Utah Accredited Continuing Legal Education, which must include a minimum of three hours of accredited ethics or professional responsibility (Rule 15-404). This CLE requirement doesn’t apply to paralegals in the state.
LPP training courses will be taught at Utah Valley University, with the first licensing exams anticipated in spring of 2019 and the issuance of licenses later that year.