The first nonlawyer-owned law firm takes root in Utah’s innovation ‘sandbox’
MAR 16, 2021 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: MAR 18, 2021
After the Utah Supreme Court authorized a program last summer aiming to test out innovative legal services delivery models, a Spokane, Wash.-based registered agent services company was finally able to do something it had been wanting to do for over a decade: offer legal advice.
“It was earth-shattering,” said Tom Glover, president of Northwest Registered Agent LLC. Now, empowered by the Utah decision, Northwest is unveiling Law on Call, which the company says is the first entirely nonlawyer-owned law firm in the United States.
Launching this week in Salt Lake City, Law on Call will offer some legal services with what Glover touted as quick access to lawyers at a cheaper price than traditional law firms. Structured like a call center, clients will pay a $9-a-month subscription to get “unlimited phone access to licensed lawyers” for legal advice, and can pay for legal work, if needed, starting at $100 per hour, the company said in announcing the new firm this week.
Utah’s high court in August 2020 gave the green light to a two-year pilot program to address what the court called the “access-to-justice crisis.” The ruling authorized a “regulatory sandbox” that allows for nontraditional legal providers, including entities with non-lawyer investment and ownership, to offer legal services.
The court will assess whether the program should continue after the two-year period.
As of the end of January, it had authorized 18 entities under the program.
Other states have also taken steps to loosen restrictions through regulatory changes. In Arizona, among other reforms, entities could begin applying for licensure as an “alternative business structure” in the state on Jan. 1, after the state’s high court approved changes last year. Other states, including California, are also exploring similar regulatory reforms.
The Utah Supreme Court authorized Law on Call to practice there in December.
Glover anticipates the firm will be able to expand beyond Utah. The company is planning to register in Arizona shortly, he said, adding that it is looking for lawyers in Salt Lake City who are admitted in Arizona in preparation. If and when more states approve new business structures, “we’ll have the logistics to quickly ramp up in those states,” Glover said.
“If New York and California and Illinois approve it, we’re going to be right there, chasing it around the country,” he said.
Northwest helps sets up LLCs and corporations and has offices in every state, Glover said. Often customers have questions about next steps for their businesses, but Northwest until now has not been able to offer legal advice to help them, he said.
The company services more than one million small businesses, including about 25,000 customers in Utah, he said. There are three lawyers and two paralegals currently in Salt Lake City, and Glover said he expects to eventually have between 80 and 100 lawyers in the state.