Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the unanimous Utah Supreme Court approval of a pilot program to permit non-traditional legal services, including non-lawyer firm ownership. The report of the Utah Work Group on Regulatory Reform titled Narrowing the Access-To-Justice Gap by Reimagining Regulation is here: https://www.utahbar.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/FINAL-Task-Force-Report.pdf
In an opinion dated August 29, 2019 (which is not yet published), the Utah Supreme Court voted unanimously to approve the recommendations of the work group which called for “profoundly reimagining the way legal services are regulated in order to harness the power of entrepreneurship, capital, and machine learning in the legal arena.”
The work group proposed the creation of a new structure in Utah for the regulation of legal services that would provide for broad-based investment and participation in business entities that provide legal services, including non-lawyer investment in and ownership of these entities. The report stated that this goal should be achieved in two ways:
- Substantially loosening regulatory restrictions on the corporate practice of law, lawyer advertising, solicitation, and fee arrangements, including referrals and fee sharing and;
- Simultaneously establishing a new regulatory body, under the supervision of the Supreme Court, to advance and implement a risk-based, empirically-grounded regulatory process for legal service entities.
The Utah Supreme Court’s approval of the recommendations begins the first stage the report’s recommendations, which includes the creation of an implementation task force that will establish the new regulatory body as a pilot program that will be in place for about two years. The regulatory body will work with the Utah State Bar, which will continue to maintain its authority over lawyers and licensed paralegal practitioners (LPPs) and regulate non-traditional legal services which is not currently allowed under Utah’s rules.
Stage one of the plan also includes the creation of a “regulatory sandbox” which will be managed by the new regulating body, and will allow a limited market of non-traditional legal entities to provide legal services in the state. According to the report, “The goal is to allow the Court and aspiring innovators to develop new offerings that could benefit the public, validate them with the public, and understand how current regulations might need to be selectively or permanently relaxed to permit these and other innovations.”
The report also requested the Supreme Court to order three changes that would allow the pilot to operate as part of the first stage, including:
- Creation of the regulating body as an implementation task force of the court and delegate regulatory authority to set up and run the regulatory sandbox;
- Establish that providers approved to participate in the regulatory sandbox are not engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in Utah; and
- Establish that lawyers will not be subject to discipline for entering into business with or otherwise providing services with providers in the sandbox.
The court has not issued a written order and a Utah Supreme Court Justice who was on the Task Force stated that he expects the court to issue a press release soon providing further details.
As I previously blogged, the Utah Supreme Court previously approved Limited License Practitioner Rules which became effective November 1, 2018 and the first LLPs in Utah were expected to be licensed in 2019. This makes Utah the most recent state to license non-lawyers to practice law and will allow LLPs practice without a lawyer’s supervision in three areas, including matters involving temporary separation, divorce, parentage, cohabitant abuse, civil stalking, custody and support, and name change, matters involving forcible entry and detainer, and debt collection matters in which the dollar amount in issue does not exceed the statutory limit for small claims cases. LLPs will not be permitted to appear in court on behalf of a client.
Bottom line: This is a very significant step toward the acceptance of non-traditional and non-lawyer practice in Utah and in the United States. All of the states which have approved such rules are in western states, so far. The beat goes on…stay tuned.
Be careful out there.
Disclaimer: this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
2999 Alt. 19, Suite A
Palm Harbor, Florida
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670
Please note: My office has moved and the new office address is 2999 Alt. 19, Palm Harbor, FL 34683. All other contact information remains the same.