Many people who need a lawyer hesitate to hire one because they aren’t sure what they’re paying for. However, what if we could remove some of that uncertainty, and make it easier for everyone to access the counsel they need? In Utah, some significant regulatory changes are looking to do just that.
A recent Utah Supreme Court ruling moved the state toward fewer restrictions on non-lawyer ownership and investment in law firms. Proponents of the change hope allowing for nonlawyer associates will bring new ideas to the industry, especially in the realm of technology.
Five billion people worldwide have unmet justice needs, according to the World Justice Project. Most of those people struggle to access the justice system because of financial roadblocks – the Brennan Center for Justice estimates that 80% of low-income people have trouble accessing the court system when they need it. In some of the worst cases, those who aren’t able to pay a fine or post bail are forced to sit in jail while they wait for help from a public defender who is already juggling too many cases.
To address these issues, the Utah Supreme Court teamed up with the Utah Bar Association to form a task force focused on finding a solution. That task force’s 71-page report outlines an overhaul of the state’s regulatory structure for law practices, including new rules that would allow nonlawyers to own and invest in law firms.
The idea of loosening restrictions on ownership and management of law firms has been bandied about for years. Arguments against it usually center around the idea that legal services should be separate from other types of businesses, due to the vital interests at stake for clients. However, proponents of the change in Utah hope non-lawyer involvement will create a more affordable and consumer-friendly market.