LM Extras Nov 6, 2020

Arizona Rule Changes Aim to Increase Access to Legal Services

There is a gap in access to justice in the United States. But Arizona made a move in August that aims to make legal services more obtainable. 

Valerie A. Danner

Its Supreme Court unanimously decided to allow a new class of legal service providers that can represent clients in certain matters. On January 1, the Arizona Supreme Court will license legal paraprofessionals to represent clients in four specific practice areas . It’s a change that could bring down the cost of legal services, something that often is a roadblock for those in need of counsel and representation.

It’s just one of three industry shakeups that the Arizona court announced that could bring long overdue innovation to the legal field. Here are the others:

  • The second will allow the Court to begin licensing alternative business structures (ABS), as of January 1, 2021, which opens the door for nonlawyer investment in law firmsand profit-sharing within firms with nonlawyers as incentives to bring in top talent, but firms were barred from that due to anti-fee-sharing rules. That’s completely gone as of January 1 in the state. Now Arizona-only firms will suddenly have a new way to attract the best candidates with great compensation packages.
  • The third change will permit Arizona lawyers to pay referral fees for cases sent to them.

“In a year that has already shepherded major changes in the way firms operate, this is another opportunity for innovation in the legal industry,” says April Campbell, JD, Executive Director of ALA.


While some lawyers worry this will drive away business from them, that’s not the case, according to Lynda Shely, JD, of The Shely Firm, PC, in Scottsdale. She also worked on these amendments. It’s an opportunity for competition and growth — plus more innovation, something that’s been a buzzword in the industry for some time but has failed to really come to fruition in many practices.

And paraprofessionals have existed in health care for some time. Ever try to make an appointment with a specialty physician only to be told there is a six-month wait for new patients? Chances are, you’re referred to a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant so you get prompt access to care. Nurse practitioners, for instance, receive extra education and additional training in one specialty area of medicine, allowing them more authority with patient care than a nurse but still less than a doctor. Plus, similar structures for legal practice have successfully been in place for some time in the United Kingdom and Australia.

That’s the goal of legal paraprofessionals. It doesn’t take away the need for a lawyer, but it has the potential to bring down the costs significantly, which is a major hurdle to getting people the representation they need.

“If all lawyers were going to fill this [access] gap, they’d need to do 900 pro bono hours a year,” says Shely.

And there are rules in place. For example, legal paraprofessionals would still be bound by ethical obligations, and not just anyone can just decide to operate an ABS — one of the requirements for operating an ABS is to have known experience running a firm. And firms that become an ABS will need to have their usual liability policy with a separate E&O (errors and omission) insurance for any staffer who isn’t a lawyer. Plus, each ABS must have an Arizona compliance lawyer who is disclosed on the application. It’s similar to how firms need a specific lawyer to manage trust accounts. That means large corporations can’t come in and gobble up firms and put newbie lawyers in charge. Shely says she’s been fielding calls from smaller firms who see this as a way to make them more competitive with larger firms.


The changes are effective January 1, but there are still things to work out, including how this applies to Arizona-based firms that have locations outside the state. While other states  are also exploring similar changes, Arizona and Utah are the first states to make it official. Shely acknowledges that for it to really work with national firms, there will need to be amendments in every state, or separate Arizona entities.

ALA members are well-positioned if other states follow suit. “Given one of the ABS requirements is experience running law firms, our members will have new opportunities for career growth or financial stakes in the firms if it’s something they’d like to pursue. They are the executive directors and chief executive officers that would be a natural fit for these roles,” says Campbell.

But one thing is clear: Arizona will be piloting a new way to run law firms come January. “It’s exciting and overdue,” says Shely. “It is exciting and other states hopefully will look at this and Arizona will be joined in the near future.”

The Arizona rule changes are just another example of how legal continues to evolve. What does this mean for law firm leadership? Read more in our white paper, “The Changing Role of Law Firm Leadership.”