Colorado Supreme Court approves LLPs (Licensed Legal Paraprofessionals) as an alternative to family law attorneys in some cases!
No one likes paying lawyers – including lawyers themselves who may need an attorney for their own cases. While we at Graham.Law have competitive fees, the best way to reduce legal fees is to avoid needing them altogether. For that reason, we not only have created the Colorado Family Law Guide and the Military Divorce Guide to help teach non-lawyers about family law, but we have a Do-It-Yourself Divorce Guide to help people file their own cases when possible.
After years of discussion and public input, the Colorado Supreme Court has finally stepped in with a major step forward to helping curb legal fees. Last week, the Court issued a press release about the creation of Licensed Legal Paraprofessionals, or LLPs for short. (Sadly, they ignored my suggestion for a “catchier” term to avoid confusion with the better-known LLP – Limited Liability Partnership. Search the web for “Colorado LLP”, and you’ll see how using the same acronym creates problems).
Colorado now joins just four other states which will issue a limited license for non-lawyers to practice family law. And this is a big deal – it even received nationwide attention, both in the ABA Journal from the American Bar Association, as well as in the mainstream media.
The press release notes that last year, 74% of domestic relations litigants were pro se, i.e. they represented themselves without a lawyer. While some of them may have had simple matters where they did not need legal assistance, no doubt thousands of people handled cases themselves because they were priced out of hiring a lawyer. This program should help them.
LLPs can prepare standard pleadings, accompany clients to court, answer factual questions from a court, but as they are not full attorneys, they cannot argue or ask questions of witnesses.
The Licensed Legal Paraprofessional program is governed by a series of rules under a new section 207 of the Rules Governing Admission to the Practice of Law in Colorado, which is part of the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure.
Role of a Colorado Licensed Legal Paraprofessional
Types of Cases an LLP Can Handle
Pursuant to Rule 207.1(2), an LLP may assist clients in a broad range of family law matters:
- Dissolution of Marriage, Legal Separation, or Annulment. Subsection (a).
- Initial Parenting (APR) or parentage (aka “paternity”). Subsection (b).
- Modification of parenting or child support. Subsection (c).
- Protection orders, name changes, and adult gender designation changes. Subsection (d).
- Remedial contempt. Subsection (e).
Based upon our experience, the list above covers a fairly large percentage of domestic relations cases. But Rule 207.1(2)(f) explicitly carves out certain types of cases which Licensed Legal Paraprofessionals cannot handle:
- Registration of foreign orders. Subsection (i).
- Punitive contempt. Subsection (ii). (See our contempt article for the differences between remedial and punitive contempt).
- Common law marriage claims. Subsection (iii).
- Disputed parentage cases with multiple parties asserting or denying parentage. Subsection (iv).
- Contested APR case involving a non-parent. Subsection (v).
- Prenuptial or postnuptial agreements. Subsection (vi).
- Cases where a party’s status as a trust beneficiary is relevant. Subsection (vii).
- Jurisdiction challenges. Subsection (viii).
- Preparing QDROs to divide non-liquid pensions. Subsection (ix).
- Preparing documents to sell or distribute business interests. Subsection (x).
- Cases with financial experts. Subsection (xi).
- Cases needing advice outside of family law (e.g. bankruptcy, criminal defense, immigration). Subsection (xii).
No Limit on Size of Case
Early in the LLP discussion process, there was talk of imposing financial limits so a Licensed Legal Paraprofessional could only take cases where the marital estate was under a certain value (e.g. $250K, but I can’t recall the specific numbers discussed) and the party being helped had an income under a certain threshold. But since the other states with legal paraprofessionals did not impose financial caps, the powers that be decided against arbitrary caps in Colorado as well.
So in theory, LLPs can help with million-dollar cases, but in reality, the larger the marital estate, the more likely it is to involve experts, trust, or have other complexities which put it beyond what an LLP is qualified to assist with. Not to mention that high-asset divorces usually involve complex issues which need specialized legal advice, so foregoing an attorney would be short-sighted.
What Tasks Can a Colorado LLP Perform?
An LLP is not a lawyer, so don’t expect Perry Mason moments as they cross-examine witnesses in the courtroom. If you need someone to handle the trial, sadly there is no substitute for hiring a family law attorney, because an LLP cannot examine witnesses in court per subsection (2)(h).
But per Rule 207.1(2)(g), many of the tasks involved in domestic relations cases can be handled by Licensed Legal Paraprofessionals, including:
- Establishing a contractual relationship with a client. Subsection (i).
- Interviewing clients. Subsection (ii).
- Advising clients which of Colorado’s standard court forms and pleadings to use. Subsection (iii).
- Completing those standard forms. Subsection (iv).
- Explaining and filing documents in support of the standard court forms. Subsection (v).
- Filing and serving documents. Subsection (vi).
- Reviewing and explaining pleadings filed by the other party or from a pension plan. Subsection (vii).
- Negotiating for a client, including at mediation. Subsection (viii).
- Completing and filing settlement agreements. Subsection (ix).
- Communicating with the other party or lawyer regarding documents. Subsection (x).
- Communicating with a client. Subsection (xi).
- Explaining court orders to a client. Subsection (xii).
- Limited in-court role: “standing or sitting at counsel table with the client during a court proceeding to provide emotional support, communicating with the client during the proceeding, answering questions posed by the court, addressing the court upon the court’s request, taking notes, and assisting the client in understanding the proceeding and relevant orders”. Subsection (xiii).
- Providing a client with information about additional resources. Subsection (xiv).
- Advising clients to seek legal counsel for more complex issues which may arise. Subsection (xv).
Who Can Be a Colorado LLP?
A random person, or even a paralegal, cannot simply hang out his/her shingle, call themselves a Licensed Legal Paraprofessional, and start helping clients. While the qualification process is much less onerous than three years of law school, taking the bar, and the CLE requirement which lawyers have, Rule 207.7 requires applicants to use a standard form (not yet promulgated at the time of this blog post) submitted to a new Office of LLP Admissions. Moreover, per Rule 207.2, the Colorado Supreme Court exercises jurisdiction over all aspects of the LLP program, from licensing to regulation.
Requirements to be a Licensed Legal Paraprofessional
- There Will Be A Test! Rule 207.8(1) provides that applicants must pass a Colorado LLP exam on issues of family law, professional conduct, and any other topics the Supreme Court designates.
- No Disbarred Attorneys. Interestingly, disbarred or suspended attorneys are not eligible to practice as LLPs. Rule 207.7(6) & (7).
- Education or Experience. Have one of the following, per Rule 207.8:
- Juris Doctor degree from an accredited law school. Subsection (3)(a).
- Associates or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies from accredited school. Subsection (3)(b) or (c).
- Bachelor’s decree from accredited school in any other subject which includes a paralegal certificate or 15 hours of paralegal studies. Subsection (3)(d)
- Approved foreign law degree. Subsection (3)(e)
- Three full-time years of practical legal experience, including at least one year in Colorado family law. Subsection (4).
- 1500 Hours Experience, including 500 hours in Colorado family law within past 3 years. Rule 207.8(7).
- Pay $325 Annual Fee. Rule 207.14.
Impact of LLPs on Colorado Family Law
Overall, exciting times ahead. While some family law attorneys may fear “competition” from non-lawyers, not us! LLPs will play an important role helping people who would not otherwise hire counsel – and that helps the entire practice of law. And if it also means fewer clients are looking for lawyers, that’s okay too. A family law attorney who can be replaced by a non-lawyer so easily may be in the wrong profession.
From a purely selfish perspective, I would prefer to have an attorney who knows what they are doing on the other side of a case – it both makes settlement more likely, and it makes the process run more smoothly. But failing that, I would prefer a case where the other party was assisted by an LLP than one who was completely flailing, not knowing what to do.
And from the client perspective, this is an excellent development. While many parties will still need lawyers, particularly for cases where you need specialized advice and skilled litigation experience, some help is better than none, so the LLP program will help those who otherwise do not have access to legal counsel.
Colorado Licensed Legal Paraprofessional FAQ
What is an LLP?
An LLP is a Licensed Legal Paraprofessional, a non-attorney who is authorized to help Colorado litigants with certain tasks on family law cases.
What Kinds of Cases Can a Licensed Legal Paraprofessional Assist With?
In Colorado, an LLP can help clients on a wide variety of family law matters, including divorce, parenting, child support, remedial contempt, protective order and name change cases. An LLP cannot help with punitive contempt, or with a specified list of more complicated matters.
What Tasks Can an LLP Perform on a Family Law Case?
A Licensed Legal Paraprofessional can advise clients, help fill out standard court forms or agreements, negotiate on behalf of clients, file pleadings, and have a limited role in the courtroom. LLPs cannot prepare custom legal documents or examine witnesses in hearings.
Award-Winning Southern Colorado Family Law Attorneys
U.S. News & World Report calls Graham.Law one of the Best Law Firms in America, and our managing partner is a Colorado Super Lawyer. Our family law attorneys have years of experience helping clients navigate the Colorado legal system. We know Colorado divorce & family law inside and out, from complex multi-million dollar property or child custody cases to basic child support modifications.
For more information about our top-rated El Paso County family law firm, contact us by filling out our contact form, calling us at (719) 630-1123 to set up a free consult, or click on:
- Why Graham.Law for your Colorado Family Law Case. Learn about the benefits of hiring divorce specialists to help you.
- Our Colorado Springs Family Law Team. The great attorneys & paralegals at Graham.Law.
- Colorado Family Law Guide. The internet’s most comprehensive resource for attorneys and clients alike.
- Military Divorce Guide. Addresses specialized family law issues that arise when one spouse is in the military.
Colorado Family Law. Period.