To increase consumer access to justice in the state, the Utah Supreme court in August 2020 established a Legal Services Innovation Office (IO) and a seven-year experimental program, called the Sandbox, to allow lawyers and non-lawyers to provide legal services under the state supreme court’s supervision.
The IO monthly updates a cumulative report of Sandbox activities. As of the close of 2021, about 10,000 unduplicated clients had sought more than 12,000 legal services from Sandbox providers. The majority of those services involved military/veterans benefits (43%), business matters including intellectual property, contracts/warranties, and entity incorporation (14.9%), accident/injury (14.7%), end of [life] planning (8.2%), marriage/family (5%), and financial matters like bankruptcy and collections (3.2%).
Sandbox participants are ranked according to both the likelihood and degree of possible harm to consumers. The harms the IO considers are achieving inaccurate or inappropriate legal results, failing to exercise legal rights through ignorance or bad advice, and purchasing unnecessary or inappropriate legal services. Of the 33 entities approved for the Sandbox, 5 are categorized as low risk, 13 as low–moderate risk, 14 as moderate risk, and 1 as high risk. Occupying a higher risk category means an entity is subject to more stringent reporting, and possibly audit, rules. 3 of the 33 approved providers have left the program.
The IO has received reports of 7 complaints, 4 of which related to a harm (1 to legal result and 3 to failure to exercise rights), roughly 1 complaint per 1,817 services delivered and 1 harm-related complaint for every 3,180 services. IO states that the “entity response to harm-related complaints has been adequate and acceptable as related to mitigation and prevention.”
In September 2021, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS), a research center, concluded that the IO’s data refutes concerns that legal services provided by non-lawyers can harm consumers and demonstrates how innovation, technology, and attorneys working with non-lawyer professionals can improve consumer access to legal services. The IAALS blog highlights examples of Sandbox entities that offer services ranging from low-to-no-cost help completing court documents to bilingual community health workers/advocates giving limited-scope legal advice about medical debt and collateral issues.
Organizations within the Sandbox are providing thousands of consumers with a greater variety of legal services under an array of business structures and in a controlled and carefully regulated environment, creating jobs for lawyers and other professionals, and generating data that can drive policy decisions. As the number of services and entities increase, so will our understanding of how new structures and services work and how consumers engage with legal help available in a variety of ways, at a variety of prices, and through a variety of providers.
If lawyers partnering with non-lawyers and using technology to increase efficiency can safely and meaningfully increase access to justice, it’s a positive change.
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