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Justice with Jessica: Non-attorneys could take on family law cases

Posted at 6:20 PM, Sep 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-02 20:20:51-04

Divorce and deciding how to split money and parenting time can be stressful. Plus, hiring a lawyer to handle those issues could cost thousands.

This Justice with Jessica is about an alternative approach to legal — an approach the Colorado Supreme Court believes could save people money and help solve their problems.

The Colorado Supreme Court is accepting public comments on the idea of licensed legal paraprofessionals (LLP).

According to the Colorado Supreme Court, "LLPs would be licensed by the Colorado Supreme Court to engage in the limited practice of domestic relations law."

The proposal indicates that LLPs would be able to represent people in certain child custody or divorce cases where marital assets are below $200,000.

In order to become an LLP, a person would have to meet certain credentials, such as educational requirements, 1,500 hours of experience in a professional law setting and at least 500 hours of experience in family law. They would have to take a professional licensing test and an ethics exam.

David Stark, chair of the Supreme Court Advisory Committee on the Practice of Law, says LLPs can help by serving people who make too much money to qualify for free legal aid but not enough money to afford a lawyer. LLPs charge between $50 and $100 per hour in other states, according to Stark.

Stark also adds that when parties are unrepresented, it can lead to confusion.

"It's difficult for judges to handle unrepresented parties that are working their way through the system. It's very difficult for the unrepresented parties, and it's difficult for the entire system," Stark said.

He says about a quarter of people involved in family law cases represent themselves, and he believes that would be the market for LLPs.

Lee Martinez, who has represented himself in court, says he has experienced the frustration of not knowing how to navigate the landscape.

"It sucks to know that there's mothers and fathers out there that, essentially, give up because it feels hopeless," he said.

However, not everyone is a fan of the idea of LLPs.

Some family lawyers believe LLPs could reduce their clientele. On the other hand, the Colorado Supreme Court believes the program will be slow growing, and doesn't immediately expect a high number of people to become LLPs.

The Colorado Supreme Court is accepting public comments about the idea through Sept. 14. If it chooses to move forward with the program, it could start in 2024 at the earliest.