Non-lawyer lawyers could bring affordable legal services to AZ / Public News Service

The cost of legal aid can be out of reach for many Arizonans, creating “legal deserts” in rural areas and marginalized communities. But a new kind of Arizona-trained lawyer could open up the court system to thousands of people.

The state licensed its first group of legal paraprofessionals or “LPs”. They are qualified to represent clients in matters such as parental rights, contracts, evictions and low level criminal matters.

Kristy Clairmont — coordinator of the paraprofessional legal program at the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law — likens new lawyers to nurse practitioners.

“The best parallels are that nurse practitioners have their own license, just like an LP,” Clairmont said. “So that really helps someone conceptualize that they’re not working under an attorney’s license; they’re working under their own license.”

Clairmont said the program was created after a study by the American Bar Association revealed a “justice gap” in which far too many Americans who could not afford a lawyer were forced to represent themselves. -even in serious legal cases.

In addition to the cost factor, Clairmont said Arizona has one of the lowest attorney-per-capita rates among the 50 states, with just two licensed attorneys per thousand residents.

“Legal resources — being attorneys — are located primarily between Phoenix and Tucson,” Clairmont said. “So you have these ‘legal deserts’ that are in other counties in Arizona, where there just aren’t any legal resources available.”

LPs receive legal training, are licensed by the state, and are limited to practicing family, administrative, and civil law, and criminal cases if no jail time is involved.

Clairmont said Arizona was one of the first states in the country to use vinyl records.

“Arizona has the widest range of practice for an LP,” Clairmont said. “Utah has a similar program. California was looking at it. New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon. Arizona is leading the way, but other states are hot on our heels.”

Clairmont said it’s important to note that LPs are different from paralegals, who perform high-level administrative work for lawyers but cannot practice law or represent clients.

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