Recently, the first completely non-lawyer-owned law firm in the United States opened its doors to practice law in the state of Utah. The company, Law on Call, intends to increase access to the legal system by setting up a membership model where, for a monthly fee, members get unlimited phone access to lawyers who can offer advice in the areas of business law, end-of-life planning, contracts, employment, housing, and real estate. If legal work is needed, lawyers are available to help Utahns for as little as $100 an hour, with no retainer (a fee paid in advance to secure a lawyer’s services) needed.
One of the largest problems Utahns and Americans have when it comes to accessing the legal system is being able to afford it. Many law firms traditionally have a business model that revolves around billable hours, which drives up the cost for legal services and makes it increasingly difficult for low-income individuals to get the help they need. This new model for delivering legal services seeks to divert from the status quo and empower their lawyers to focus on client satisfaction and quality of work.
This was only possible because the Utah Supreme Court approved and created the country’s first legal services sandbox. The goal of the sandbox program is to get companies like Law on Call to find new and innovative ways to deliver legal services to low-income Utahns who do not have the means to afford a lawyer.
The program is wildly popular, too! According to the most recent public report, the court has received 42 applications since its inception in the fall of 2020. Currently, there are 20 different companies that have been approved to operate in the sandbox.
The primary legal categories the companies have serviced have been: End of life planning, business, marriage/family, financial, housing rental, and real estate. Those six categories have accounted for 83 percent of all services provided in the sandbox so far. So far, the courts have not received complaints from either the participating companies or the consumers that would indicate any harm.
The program is still new, but the early returns thus far are very promising. The sandbox program provides a unique opportunity to bring much-needed change to an industry ripe for reform.