DENVER – The Colorado Supreme Court has approved the licensure of legal paraprofessionals in a new rule that is designed to make legal representation more widely available and more affordable to people in certain domestic-relations matters.
With approval of the new Rule 207 of the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure, the state becomes one of five that will issue some form of limited license for non-lawyers to practice law. As of last September, the other four states were Arizona, Minnesota, Oregon and Utah; Washington and California both developed limited-license programs, but neither is actively licensing non-lawyers, according to the American Bar Association.
Under the rule, licensed legal paraprofessionals may complete and file standard pleadings and represent clients in mediation, accompany clients to court and answer a court’s factual questions, although they may not present oral arguments or examine witnesses in a hearing.
In fiscal year 2022, 74% of parties involved in Colorado domestic-relations cases such as marriage dissolution and allocation of parental responsibility represented themselves.
“Making it easier for people to secure legal representation in these often difficult matters has been a long-term goal of our commitment to ensuring access to justice for all Coloradans,” said Colorado Chief Justice Brian D. Boatright in a prepared statement. “Allowing non-lawyers to provide limited legal representation for people who otherwise couldn’t afford it will not only help those litigants, but it will help the courts efficiently and effectively handle their cases.”
The paraprofessionals will have to pass a written examination to be administered by the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel and will be subject to character and fitness standards similar to those required of licensed attorneys.
By the time an applicant takes the LLP examination, he or she must meet certain educational requirements and have completed 1,500 hours of substantive law-related practical experience, including 500 hours of experience in Colorado family law, within the three years immediately preceding the date of the examination. The court approved an exception to the educational requirements for individuals who have worked for three years in family law.
Applicants also will have to pass an ethics class, pass a professional conduct exam, and complete continuing legal education requirements, and they will be subject to a complaint and discipline process similar to that of licensed attorneys.
The state Supreme Court in 2021 charged the Advisory Committee on the Practice of Law with developing a plan to license legal paraprofessionals. A subcommittee made up of current and former judges, family law lawyers, a family law paralegal/mediator, a family court facilitator, the Attorney Regulation Counsel and the chair of the Advisory Committee developed the rule, which was subject to public comment before the Supreme Court approved the final version.
The first LLPs could receive their licenses in July 2024.Rule 207 is available for viewing at https://www.courts.state.co.us/userfiles/file/Court_Probation/Supreme_Court/Rule_Changes/2023/Rule%20Change%202023(06).pdf.