New Mexico is the latest state to consider authorizing limited legal technicians (LLTs) to provide civil legal services to people unable to afford an attorney. In a press release earlier this month, the New Mexico Supreme Court announced the formation of a working group to explore licensing LLTs and other possible changes in court rules and programs to improve the availability of legal services in the state.

LLTs would provide legal advice and assistance to clients in certain areas of law without the supervision of a lawyer. If approved, New Mexico would be the third state to authorize professionals who aren’t attorneys to provide limited legal advice.

Assessing Needs

New Mexico is facing a lawyer-shortage crisis. Twenty-one percent of New Mexico’s counties have five or fewer lawyers. Two counties have no attorneys. District Judge Donna J. Mowrer of the 9th Judicial District of Curry and Roosevelt Counties and the Chair of the working group said, “[LLTs] without a full law license offer a promising option for affordable legal services in civil matters to low- and moderate-income New Mexicans and in rural areas with a lack of attorneys.”

The working group will submit a study report to the state supreme court by Jan. 1, 2020. Chief Justice Judith Nakamura hopes that LLTs will “make it easier for the public to access court services, reduce delays in resolving cases and more efficiently operate courts by streamlining case processing and simplifying our court structure.”

Following Suit

In 2015, Washington became the first state to allow limited license legal technicians (LLLTs) to provide assistance in domestic relations. Since then, the state has suggested amendments that would enhance the scope of the current family law practice area.

Utah enacted rules in late 2018 to authorize licensed paralegal practitioners (LLPs) to practice in the state beginning in spring of 2019. As a result, LLPs can now provide legal advice and assistance to clients in three distinct areas that a Utah task force found to have the greatest need and highest number of self-represented litigants: debt collection, eviction cases and certain family law matters.

How do you think licensing legal technicians to practice law in certain areas will impact the profession?