More states are allowing non-lawyers to represent people in civil court matters as the gap in access to legal counsel grows wider between those who can afford attorneys and those who can’t.
Although it’s in its early stages, such advocacy is desperately needed as states struggle to ensure residents with common legal problems aren’t left behind, lawyers said.
The cost of hiring lawyers “has increased since the 1970s, and many individual litigants have been forced to forego using professional legal services and either represent themselves or ignore their legal problems,” a task force of the state Supreme Court wrote in a report on legal services in Arizona in 2019.
Utah and Arizona launched programs in recent years that allow people who have earned legal technician’s licenses to dispense advice in family law cases, while Minnesota is in a trial run. Oregon plans to start an initiative next summer, and Colorado is considering the idea.
Typically, candidates must tally a certain number of hours of legal training and document preparation before they can become licensed providers, an occupation whose name varies from state to state.
In Colorado, the state Supreme Court is considering launching a program that would allow people with some background in the law to represent people in family court, where low-income or indigent litigants aren’t provided lawyers as defendants are in criminal court.
“It could cost tens of thousands of dollars to go through a divorce or a custody case,” said Maha Kamal, a family law attorney and co-chair of a state committee that proposed the plan. “Most attorneys aren’t offering enough services at a cost that is affordable.”
Sometimes referred to as the nurse practitioners of the law industry, legal service providers offer a less expensive way to file documents and mediate disputes in civil court than