How Licensed Paralegal Practitioners are Helping Lower Income Utahns get the Legal Help They Need
On September 23rd, 2020, Licensed Paralegal Practitioner (LPP) Angie Allen spoke at the Annual Judicial Conference to talk about access to justice and the Licensed Paralegal Practitioner Program. In her presentation, Angie addressed the successes of the LPP program and how it has helped Utahns save money while getting the legal help they need in civil cases. She also addressed some ways that the program can be improved upon. Here are some highlights from her presentation.
The Licensed Paralegal Practitioner Program
Almost one year ago, in October 2019, the first four Licensed Paralegal Practitioners were admitted to the Utah State Bar. Angie was one of them. Angie is now part of the LPP Steering Committee and the Advisory Board for the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Before that, Angie had worked as a paralegal for almost 20 years and her experience has helped her develop a passion for helping people, especially those who don’t have control over their finances or don’t have the money to pay for a traditional lawyer, driving her to participate in the LPP program. She said during her presentation, “…if I am being honest, after years of not being able to answer the questions our clients had, the idea of finally being able to give limited advice was really appealing…As an LPP, my experience has been that most of the clients we are serving are not those who need or can afford attorneys.”
In talking about why there’s a need for the LPPs, Angie addressed the cost of legal representation, the niche that LPPs fill, and how LPPs alleviate court clerks of the burden that has been placed on them by the thousands of Utahns trying to handle their own cases.
In talking about cost, Angie talked about the clients she has worked with in the past. In her years of experience, most clients just needed simple questions answered and didn’t need to retain a lawyer for full legal services. The LPP offers limited scope legal services, which means that clients can get their questions answered without having to pay for full legal representation. This means that clients can still get the legal advice they need to handle their cases while saving money because LPPs only bill for the time they spend helping clients. On the other hand, many lawyers charge large retainer fees that can be thousands of dollars on top of billing hourly for their work. The LPP can still provide legal services at a more affordable price in family law, debt collection, and
LPPs are able to tap into a niche market that lawyers aren’t able to fill. In Angie’s experience, many clients aren’t looking for full representation, but they still need access to justice. As a matter of fact, in over half of family law cases and in almost all debt collection cases in Utah, many people don’t seek out legal representation and do the work themselves on their cases. Angie has structured her practice (Utah Legal Coach) around these pro se consumers who are representing themselves who may need a few questions answered or help with a document. According to Angie, the LPP fulfills a specific niche for many Utahns who don’t necessarily need full legal representation.
Burdens on the Courts
Angie reached out to the Second District Court Clerk Brooke McKnight to see what some of the biggest issues are that the court sees with pro se clients. According to Angie, the main issues that McKnight reported are “documents filed at the wrong time, documents being filed as jpegs instead of PDFs, the overwhelming amount of phone calls, and crowded dockets.” Because of these issues, the courts have been flooded by inbound calls of people representing themselves asking questions about how to submit documents through the court system. The court clerks feel the burden of trying to help these consumers and the LPPs can help ease that burden with the services they provide.
In the past year since the LPP program went into effect, LPPs have been able to help clients in mediation, answer legal questions, and help clients fill out paperwork for the courts. Thanks to the efforts of Angie and the other LPPs in Utah (now there are 13), many people are able to get access to justice so that they can get better outcomes on their civil cases. As the program continues to grow, we’re sure that Angie will continue to do amazing things as she shares her expertise and experience with people all over the state of Utah.