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Can Nonlawyers Close the Legal Services Gap

CAN NONLAWYERS CLOSE THE LEGAL SERVICES GAP - CHANGES TO BAN ON FEE SHARING AND PARTNERSHIPS WITH NONLAWYERS IN UTAH AND ARIZONA

From the ABA Litigation News authored by C. thea Pitzen, Litigation News Associate Editor 

Previous forms of ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 5.4, which addresses the professional independence of lawyers, including a prohibition on lawyers sharing legal fees with nonlawyers, as well as the prohibition on lawyers forming partnerships with nonlawyers if any part of that partnership consists of the practice of law, are facing changes in Utah and Arizona.  The proposed changes are being proposed in the interests of improving access to justice and would provide for limited legal services to the public, including being able to go into court with their client.  Under the Arizona Supreme Court rule, the nonlawyer would be called legal paraprofessionals and would be affiliate members of the State Bar and subject to regulation and discipline rules governing attorneys.  Affiliate members would also be required to disclose whether they are covered by professional liability insurance.

In Utah, the Supreme Court has created the Office of Legal Services Innovation (Innovation Office) which is charged with administering Utah's pilot program, called the Sandbox, which allows nontraditional legal services to be offered using novel approaches and means, including options not permitted by the Rules of Professional Conduct and other applicable rules.  An entity seeking authorization to offer services in the Sandbox must submit an application to the Innovation Office, which then determines whether the applicant 1) furthers the regulatory objective and 2) does not present an "unacceptable risk of consumer harm".  All of the Sandbox participants are jointly owned by lawyers and nonlawyers and if a Sandbox participant can demonstrate that its legal services are "safe", they may be approved to exit the Sandbox and be granted a license to practice law.

To read the full article, click on the link here.