New Mexico Legal Industry Reform
New Mexico is planning for long term reform of its legal industry. The changes—though they may take many years to achieve—will dramatically impact which New Mexicans get the legal help they need.
“No one program or tool will fully mitigate the access to justice crisis. However, even with a small innovation, the gap could be reduced.”
What Legal Industry Reforms Are Being Considered in New Mexico?
In 2019, the Ad Hoc New Mexico Licensed Legal Technicians Workgroup submitted a report to the NM Supreme Court. This report detailed legal industry reform recommendations that the Workgroup called “disruptive innovation,” ideas that were previously overlooked and “considered inferior.”
When compiling recommendations, the Workgroup closely considered the unique problems New Mexicans face, and came up with the following:
- Increase qualified attorney presence in New Mexico; focus on rural areas by utilizing Uniform Bar Examination (UBE) transfer. (The UBE is active in 36 states. It allows examinees to transfer their scores to other states, rather than having to take the bar in each state where they seek admission.)
- Establish a Court Navigators Program to help unrepresented litigants maneuver the court system.
- Implement a Rural Law Opportunity Program to encourage attorneys to practice in rural New Mexico.
- Continue studying the licensing of nonlawyers to perform limited legal work.
In 2020, the New Mexico Supreme Court approved these recommendations.
When Will Legal Reforms in New Mexico Be Implemented?
New Mexico is continually assessing the best ways to implement reforms, as many of the recommendations are large in scope and will take years to implement. Some innovations, however, are already underway: the creation of a Court Navigators Program is in motion.
Why Is Legal Industry Reform in New Mexico Necessary?
New Mexico requires legal industry reform because its residents’ access to justice barriers are profound. The state has been analyzing this problem since at least 2004, when the New Mexico Commission on Access to Justice was established. And yet, the problem not only persists but is growing.
One obstacle stems from the vast amount of rural land in the state—rural land (and rural pay grades) that it’s hard to convince attorneys to move to. As stated in the Workgroup’s report, “Even an optimistic reading of the averages for New Mexico suggests that less than half of the state’s population has the access to legal services enjoyed by the country as a whole, and that this scarcity is concentrated in the state’s rural counties.”
Increasing rural attorney numbers will reduce the access to justice barriers New Mexicans face. But, it will not eliminate the issue at large. As the report says, “No one program or tool will fully mitigate the access to justice crisis. However, even with a small innovation, the gap could be reduced.”
Is New Mexico the Only State Pursuing Legal Industry Reform?
No! At least a dozen states are considering legal industry reform and researching the access to justice gap.
In Arizona, legal industry reform is already implemented, and we’ve been approved to operate Law on Call as an Alternative Business Structure in the state. And in Utah, legal reform takes the shape of the legal regulatory Sandbox; Law on Call has been in operation there since Winter 2021.