- Associated Press - Sunday, December 20, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - People filing for divorce, settling debts or dealing with an eviction could soon have a new option to get help navigating Utah’s legal system.

The Utah Supreme Court has approved the creation of a new kind of legal professional, one that will be cheaper than a full-fledged lawyer but still have enough training to guide people through the civil system, The Salt Lake Tribune reported last week (https://bit.ly/1QwcbAJ ).

Called limited paralegal practitioners, they would be able to help clients with filling out forms, mediating negotiations or preparing settlements but couldn’t represent them in courtrooms.

“A large number of people do not have a lawyer to help them,” Supreme Court Justice Deno Himonas said. “The people facing these situations need correct information and advice. They need assistance.”

The professionals will have more training than a typical paralegal, but less than an attorney. They couldn’t question witnesses, present evidence or make arguments before a judge. They would be working with cases in civil court system where most people in Utah don’t hire lawyers, either because they can’t afford one or think they don’t need one.

Himonas said that lawyers in Utah have tried to help more people get legal assistance by taking on cases pro bono, but there’s still a gap to fill. He served as chairman of a task force that spent seven months researching whether the idea could work for Utah. The group presented its report Monday.

It’s not clear how many lawyers will support the new position. A Utah State Bar survey found that 60 percent of lawyers disagreed with the idea of granting limited legal licenses.

A spokesman for the state bar said the organization is looking forward to considering the recommendations. Sean Toomey said the bar also has encouraged lawyers to consider changes to the way they “package, price and deliver their services.”

It’s not clear when people could start working in the new profession. There are still important questions to decide, including the educational requirements for the position and what its exact limitations will be.

Still, court official Rick Schwermer said the idea of a new profession is a big deal.

“Yes, we are at the beginning of it,” he said. “But we’ve done the most difficult part, which is getting everyone to agree that we need to do something and coming up with at least the framework for doing it.”


Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, https://www.sltrib.com



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