Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss recent Utah Supreme Court approval of a pilot program which would permit non-lawyers to own law firms, share fees with lawyers, and makes other significant revisions. The link to the Utah Supreme Court’s Standing Order No. 15 approving the pilot program is here: http://www.utcourts.gov/utc/rules-approved/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2020/08/FINAL-Utah-Supreme-Court-Standing-Order-No.-15.pdf and the Utah Bar Rule revisions related to the pilot program are here: http://www.utcourts.gov/utc/rules-approved/2020/08/13/supreme-court-regulatory-reform-effective-august-14-2020/. The Standing Order and Rule revisions were effective August 14, 2020 and will sunset in two years unless there is a further order of the Court.
The details of the “pilot legal regulatory sandbox” are set forth in the Supreme Court’s Standing Order 15 and in the revisions to the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct. The program creates a “regulatory sandbox” for non-traditional legal providers and services, including entities with non-lawyer investment or ownership and also creates an Office of Legal Services Innovation, which will assess the sandbox applicants and make recommendations to the Court and also supervise the applicants who are authorized by the Court to offer legal services.
According to the Utah Supreme Court’s August 13, 2020 press release:
“These changes allow individuals and entities to explore creative ways to safely allow lawyers and non-lawyers to practice law and to reduce constraints on how lawyers market and promote their services. In order to assess whether the changes are working as intended, the Supreme Court has authorized the core portions of these changes for a two-year period. At the conclusion of that time, the Supreme Court will carefully evaluate whether the program should continue. The evaluation will be based on a review of data collected from those entities and individuals participating in the program. The Supreme Court’s willingness to experiment with innovation is an important step, especially now, because the need for more affordable legal help has reached crisis levels as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout.”
According to the press release, after the 90 day period which was allotted for input, the Supreme Court made a number of changes to the initial proposals. These changes “included: (1) increasing transparency into the application and approval process, (2) adding clearer channels for complaints regarding the new legal services, (3) severely restricting any roles for disbarred or suspended lawyers and those with certain felony convictions, (4) more explicitly articulating the program’s access-to-justice goals, (5) and more clearly delineating that the program will sunset in two years absent further order of the Supreme Court.”
The Utah Supreme Court’s press release is here: https://www.utcourts.gov/utc/news/2020/08/13/to-tackle-the-unmet-legal-needs-crisis-utah-supreme-court-unanimously-endorses-a-pilot-program-to-assess-changes-to-the-governance-of-the-practice-of-law/
Bottom line: If the Utah Supreme Court’s pilot program is made permanent, it will radically change the practice of law in Utah and may also become the wave of the future in other states and jurisdictions.
Stay safe and healthy and be careful out there.
Disclaimer: this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
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Palm Harbor, Florida
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