Utah Opens the Door to Alternative Legal Service Providers

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Sweeping changes would allow non-traditional legal providers.

In a landmark move, the state of Utah has approved sweeping changes to the delivery of legal services, including opening the door to nontraditional legal service providers to operate in the state.

Observers say the ruling by the Utah Supreme Court  could be a “blueprint” for other states to follow.

“Spurred by a widening gap in access to justice, made even worse by the coronavirus crisis, the court’s five justices voted unanimously to approve a comprehensive package of changes they proposed in April and put out for public comment,” according to Bob Ambrogi on his LawSites blog. “The vote creates a two-year pilot of a regulatory sandbox — a regulatory body under the oversight of the Supreme Court, to be called the Office of Legal Services Innovation, whose charge would be to license and oversee new forms of legal providers and services.”

Here is the ruling: Supreme Court’s Standing Order 15.

Here are the revisions to the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct

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Here are some of the takeaways from Ambrogi, a longtime thought leader on the practice of law, as taken from his LawSites blogpost (all quotes are from him):

  • The court said: “these changes will enable individuals and entities to explore creative ways to safely allow lawyers and non-lawyers to practice law and to reduce constraints on how lawyers market and promote their services.”
  • “After the two-year pilot is concluded, the court will carefully evaluate whether the program should continue. Its evaluation will be based on a review of data collected from the individuals and entities that participate in the program.”
  • The Standing Order would cover nonlawyer owned entities, or legal entities in which nonlawyers are partial owners (for profit or nonprofit), that do either of the following: offer legal practice options whether directly or by partnership, joint venture, subsidiary, franchise, or other corporate structure or business arrangement; or practice law through technology platforms, or lawyer or nonlawyer staff, or through an acquired law firm.
  • “The court said that it carefully considered the input it received during the comment period. As a result of that input, it made several changes to the initial proposals, including: increasing transparency into the application and approval process; adding clearer channels for complaints regarding the new legal services; severely restricting any roles for disbarred or suspended lawyers and those with certain felony convictions; more explicitly articulating the program’s access-to-justice goals; more clearly delineating that the program will sunset in two years absent further order of the Supreme Court.”

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