Justice and Due Process

Utah Courts are Expanding Access to Legal Services

In a first-in-the-nation move, the Utah Supreme Court has unanimously approved a two-year pilot program allowing for a regulatory sandbox of legal services. This decision is the result of a two-year court task force exploring ways to “increase access and affordability of legal services while protecting consumers.” In short, this historic decision will allow for a new marketplace of legal services to start up and thrive without being restricted or burdened by previous restrictions that would otherwise have prevented their existence. 

Whether it’s for a financial dispute, a criminal matter, or a custody battle, the court system can often be confusing and expensive to navigate. Individuals are forced to either rely on the help of (costly) licensed attorneys, or try to maneuver through on their own. Both options have their ups and downs. But what if there were another option that could offer legal services to circumvent the need for an expensive lawyer? Perhaps now there can be.

For example, perhaps a person needs to obtain an expungement to clear their criminal records. Under current law, the only outside help they can obtain to help them with this process is an attorney, which many people cannot afford. Under the sandbox, however, a non-lawyer could start a virtual platform that specialized in offering expungement help for a far cheaper price than a traditional law firm would charge. This would benefit those with criminal records and the business owners who, under this example, have enough knowledge of the law to help people obtain expungements, even though they are not licensed attorneys.

Under the framework of the regulatory sandbox, an “Office of Legal Services Innovation” will be established to oversee the program and approve eligible applicants to offer legal services in Utah. Those who are accepted will be able to legally operate under careful watch from the courts who will be ensuring that the legal services offered are safe for Utahns. During the pilot phase, the courts will also be carefully monitoring the outcomes of the services and collecting data. After the two-year pilot concludes, the Court will use this information to decide if the program should continue.

Libertas Institute has been a vocal proponent of regulatory sandboxes, which gets government regulations out of the way to allow new and innovative businesses to flourish. This model helps consumers access goods and services they might not otherwise be able to find. Previous work has led the Utah Legislature to adopt regulatory sandboxes for the financial technology and insurance industries.  The concept of the bill is the same as Utah’s legal services sandbox, trying to help businesses adapt and safely provide goods and services without high regulatory barriers impeding their innovations.

We commend the Court’s decision to take a leap of faith by allowing the market to innovate so that access to justice can be expanded for even more Utahns. We hope to see this concept applied in other areas of the law, so that other industries or business models that don’t neatly fit into existing regulatory frameworks can have a chance to exist and grow.