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Go Mostly West, Paralegal Practitioner!

Back in the day, paralegals had to toe the line between helping lawyers and practicing law without a license.

But that line is fading as another state has authorized nonlawyers to practice law. Washington led the nation with limited license legal technicians in 2012, and Utah will start licensing paralegal practitioners in 2019.

These legal professionals can handle a variety of cases without a lawyer's supervision -- as if that never happened before.

Paralegal Practitioners

In Utah, they call them "paralegal practitioners." They cannot make court appearances, but they can handle:

  • Divorce, custody, support, and related matters
  • Unlawful detainer and forcible entry cases
  • Debt collection on small claims

Utah Valley University will offer classes for licensing paralegal practitioners this fall. The first licenses are expected to issue next spring.

The idea is to make legal services more affordable. According to studies, about 80 percent of people cannot afford an attorney for civil matters.

Limited License Legal Technicians

Writing for the ABA Journal, Mary Juetten said "the limited license legal technician is the way of the future." That was last year, when Washington was the only state with a program.

She studied the experience there and concluded it serves clients well. Unlike new attorneys, legal technicians must have 3,000 hours of practical experience before they can be licensed. And they charge about one-fourth the price of a lawyer.

While some attorneys complain about the competition, there are only a couple dozen licensed practitioners in Washington and none yet in Utah. Sometimes it may be just a perception problem -- like fear of the unknown.

Some lawyers get confused about the difference between paralegal, legal assistant, paralegal practitioner, limited license legal technician, and what they can do. Like, "Hey, can you please interview that new client, set up the file, and draft an opinion letter?"

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