The Colorado Supreme Court on March 27 announced it approved the licensure of legal paraprofessionals in a new rule designed to make legal representation more widely available and affordable for people in certain domestic relations matters.
According to the announcement, 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 September 2022, the other four states are Arizona, Minnesota, Oregon and Utah, the press release stated. Washington and California both developed limited-license programs, but neither is actively licensing non-lawyers, according to the American Bar Association.
The court noted, under the rule, LLPs may complete and file standard pleadings, and represent clients in mediation. They also may accompany their clients to court and answer a court’s factual questions, though they may not present oral argument or examine witnesses in a hearing.
In fiscal year 2022, 74% of parties involved in Colorado domestic-relations cases like marriage dissolution and allocation of parental responsibility represented themselves, according to the announcement.
“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 Supreme Court Chief Justice Brian Boatright in the announcement. “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.”
LLPs 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, according to the announcement.
By the time an applicant takes the LLP examination, the court stipulated the applicant needs to meet specific 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 exam. The court also approved an exception to the educational requirements for individuals who have worked for three years in family law.
According to the announcement, applicants will have to pass an ethics class and a professional conduct exam and complete continuing legal education requirements. They’ll also be subject to a complaint and discipline process similar to licensed attorneys.
The Colorado Supreme Court in 2021 charged the Advisory Committee on the Practice of Law with developing a plan to license legal paraprofessionals. According to the announcement, a subcommittee made up of current and former judges, family law lawyers, an experienced family law paralegal/mediator, a family court facilitator, the OARC and the chair of the advisory committee developed the rule. The rule was subject to public comment before the Supreme Court approved the final version.
The court noted in its announcement the first LLPs could receive their licenses in July 2024. Rule 207 can be found online.