Arizona’s Licensed Legal Advocates: Pilot Program Aims to Provide Needed Legal Help in Certain Cases

March 26, 2021

Earlier this year, licensed legal advocates (LLAs) in Arizona began training “to give limited legal advice on civil matters stemming from domestic violence.” These advocates, the first of their kind in the state, are learning to provide legal advice on topics such as protective orders, divorce, child custody, consumer protection, and housing.

Licensed legal advocates are part of a two-year pilot project at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, managed by the university’s Innovation for Justice Program (i4j). The idea was first conceived by i4j program director Stacy Butler and students in her Innovating Legal Services course in spring 2019; the class sought to explore how a new tier of civil legal professional could assist survivors of domestic abuse.

Over the course of the semester, Butler and her students partnered with Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse, a local nonprofit whose mission is to provide “the opportunity to create, sustain, and celebrate a life free from abuse.” They additionally collaborated with a wide variety of community participants, including judges, attorneys, lay legal advocates, social services providers, government representatives, domestic violence survivors, social scientists, interested community members, and other stakeholders. They met with dozens of community members, vetted opportunities for nonlawyers to address justice gaps experienced by survivors, and explored how tiered services work in other jurisdictions (such as within the medical and behavioral health professions).

A report stemming from the course laid out the limitations that Arizona’s ethical rules place on lay legal advocates employed by domestic violence service providers like Emerge!, allowing them to provide information and explain the legal process but preventing them from offering legal advice. The course developed a proposal for a pilot program that would train these lay legal advocates to become LLAs, who would be empowered to give legal advice on urgent legal issues during initial intake, help domestic violence survivors complete forms, assist them with case preparation, and have a seat at the table when survivors go to court hearings. The course’s report details the education, training, licensing, and regulation requirements of LLAs; education tools for the bench, bar, and public; and an evaluation process for the pilot.

A 2019 Arizona Supreme Court task force report on legal services delivery recommended the court establish the LLA program, as well as eliminate the state’s ethics rules barring nonlawyers from having an economic interest in law firms or participating in fee-sharing. The court established the pilot program via administrative order in June 2020, and that August the Arizona Supreme Court voted unanimously to eliminate Rule of Professional Conduct 5.4.

Throughout the pilot program, i4j and evaluators at the Arizona Supreme Court Administrative Office of the Courts will collect and evaluate data related to the LLAs’ ability to identify and resolve justice issues, improve case outcomes, and expedite case resolution. At the end of the pilot period, should the program be found to be justified, the LLA program will go statewide; i4j students and faculty will develop a set of tools for replicating the program in other locations, including online training curriculum, eligibility criteria, testing and licensure framework, and more.