Access to Justice

Nonlawyer advocates can help tenants facing eviction in program approved in 2 states

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The Arizona Supreme Court and the Utah Supreme Court have approved proposals to allow trained, nonlawyer advocates to provide free limited-scope representation to tenants facing housing instability.

Innovation for Justice developed the pilot program to train and license “housing stability legal advocates” who are volunteers or staff members of nonprofit groups, according to orders by the state supreme courts (here and here) issued earlier this year.

Law360 has a story; a May 30 press release is here.

The program “has the potential to change the delivery of legal services nationwide because it is the first time that a service model is being implemented in two jurisdictions simultaneously,” said Cayley Balser, Innovation for Justice’s community-engaged research operations lead, in an email to Law360.

“This will allow us to evaluate the effectiveness of this service model in two states that have different housing stability landscapes, including different civil justice system interaction points and timelines,” Balser said.

The Arizona order says housing stability legal advocates can provide general legal advice about the rights of tenants, along with dispute resolution strategies, such as payment plans. They may also advise clients about the eviction process and timeline, how to complete court forms, and “how to assert viable eviction defenses,” the order says.

Housing stability legal advocates in Arizona may also sit at the counsel table to help clients during court hearings and may respond to questions from the presiding judicial officer.

The Utah order says the advocates can help tenants complete forms, advise clients on the civil legal process, screen for legal defenses, assist in negotiations to reach solutions, and provide assistance in preparation for court.

Arizona is already recruiting participants, while the Utah program is still seeking funding for a launch.

Innovation for Justice is associated with the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law and the University of Utah David Eccles School of Business. It is the group’s third initiative to improve access to justice by easing restrictions on the unauthorized practice of law.

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