Colorado could be next to let non-lawyers provide limited legal services

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REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

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  • Colorado Supreme Court accepting public comment on proposal until Sept. 14
  • Licensed legal paraprofessionals would provide some services in family law matters

(Reuters) - Colorado could soon join other U.S. states that have set up programs to license some trained professionals who aren't lawyers to deliver limited legal services.

The Colorado Supreme Court has released for public comment until Sept. 14 an implementation plan that would allow licensed legal paraprofessionals, like paralegals, to provide services confined to some types of family law matters.

The court will then review the proposal and comments and could decide whether to adopt the program, according to Rob McCallum, a spokesperson for the Colorado Judicial Department. There is no specific time frame for a decision to be made, he said in an email this week.

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Advocates across the country have held up limited non-lawyer licensing as a way to increase access to justice, though there have been some concerns such moves might open the door to unauthorized legal practice.

Oregon's high court approved a licensed paralegal program in July. Utah, Arizona and Minnesota also have programs in place, as does Washington, though its high court last year decided to stop offering new licenses. Programs address issues including family law, housing disputes and debt collection matters.

California is weighing a proposal that has faced opposition from lawyers and some state lawmakers.

The proposed plan in Colorado would allow the paraprofessionals to assist in "less complex" family law cases, including some divorce matters where net marital assets fall under $200,000, and in certain child custody matters.

The initiative is an attempt to provide limited assistance to "those who can't afford lawyers and are trying to do it alone," said Jessica Yates, attorney regulation counsel for the Colorado Supreme Court.

The proposal has also drawn some opposition.

Jessica Peck, a family law litigator in Colorado, said lawyers she has spoken with have "very serious concerns" and don't think the model should move forward in its current form.

Under the Colorado proposal, the licensed paraprofessionals would be able to file standard pleadings, represent clients in mediation and accompany them to court. They would not be able to argue in court or examine witnesses.

Peck said one concern would be that legal paraprofessionals would provide legal advice that they "can't go into court and defend." She suggested encouraging or requiring more pro bono service of lawyers as a potential alternative to the program.

The paraprofessionals would also need to meet certain educational and experience requirements, and pass family law and ethics exams, according to the plan.

Read more:

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Sara Merken reports on privacy and data security, as well as the business of law, including legal innovation and key players in the legal services industry. Reach her at sara.merken@thomsonreuters.com