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The Utah State Bar plans to introduce a new program for its lawyers to support the community, the Modest Means Lawyer Referral. Lawyers will provide affordable legal assistance to people who earn from 125 to 300 percent of the federal poverty guidelines (for example, up to $70,000 for a family of four). The discounted hourly rates are $50 or $75, depending upon financial circumstances.
Today, more people are self-representing in court; nearly 50 percent of those appearing for divorces do so without lawyers. The Committee on Resources for Self-Represented Parties reported to the Judicial Council that “judges of both district and justice courts find consistent problems with self-represented parties expecting judges and court staff to provide legal advice, failing to understand rules of procedure and evidence, failing to bring necessary witnesses and evidence to court, and refusing to accept the court’s rulings.”
“It’s difficult for a layperson to effectively participate in Utah’s courts because of the complicated nature of the law, and complex rules of evidence and procedure,” said Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake executive director Stewart Ralphs. “As a result, an unrepresented litigant may not obtain the same benefits from the courts as a represented one.” Ralphs was on the bar committee that developed Modest Means Lawyer Referral and said, “The program will also be a benefit to new lawyers establishing a client base. In addition to the dedicated mentors they have for their first year in practice, the program will provide new lawyers with a panel of seasoned advisors.”
Through this lawyer referral program, clients can hire a lawyer for full representation, and the lawyer will create all documents and make all court appearances. Alternatively lawyers can provide limited-scope representation, such as coaching, appearing at a critical hearing, or reviewing documents that the client creates. The American Bar Association recently released a resolution to “encourage practitioners, when appropriate, to consider limiting the scope of their representation as a means of increasing access to legal services.”
Interested parties should visit utahbar.org/lawyer-referral to see if they qualify for discounted legal services.