Recently, the Office of Legal Services Innovation in the Supreme Court of Utah released a report outlining the recently-launched legal services sandbox program in the state of Utah. The purpose of the sandbox is to expand access to legal services to low-income Utahns. The program received plenty of national attention — understandably so, as it was the first program of its kind in the entire country.
Being a first-mover by creating this first-in-the-nation style of sandbox is paying early dividends for the state. According to the report, the office has received over 30 applications, it has recommended 18 of the applicants for inclusion in the sandbox, with 12 companies currently participating in the program. Approximately two companies are applying for the program every week.
The program allows for the expansion of responsibilities for non-lawyers. If the service that is needed is simply a paperwork requirement, it can save Uthans a lot of money to have a non-lawyer be able to perform those functions rather than a lawyer. The legal industry is one of the most rigid, and essential changes are needed to ensure that people would not be at a disadvantage simply for not being able to afford the costs of a lawyer. The program offers an opportunity for regulators and businesses to work hand in hand to identify problematic policies.
A unique aspect for some of these companies is that they are exploring the opportunity to change the ownership structure of their firms. Traditionally, legal firms have been owned entirely by lawyers, whereas in the sandbox system, that is no longer a requirement. Expanding access to legal services for low-income Utahns is a noble cause, and companies are sympathetic to the goals in place, with the program attracting law firms of all sizes, from large firms like Rocket Lawyer to small, lesser-known operations like 1Law.
It is a promising sign for what is a powerful program that can hopefully offer some much-needed solutions for providing access to legal services for Utahns. It also positions the state in a positive light, emerging as a leader by leaning on the private sector to come up with innovative solutions to modern-day issues the state is facing in an extremely lethargic industry.
Looking forward, Utah should avoid targeting particular industries, which runs the risk of picking winners and losers. Instead, it should look to create a general sandbox that is all-inclusive, allowing any entrepreneur or business to enjoy a more flexible regulatory environment. Outdated regulations exist outside of just the legal arena, and an “industry-agnostic” sandbox can serve as a tool to remedy these inherent problems across a wide array of industries.
For a more in-depth analysis of the legal services sandbox, read our recent op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune covering the topic.