Could Paraprofessionals Remove the Access-to-Justice Gap?
One of the major issues with the current legal system in the US is the so-called “access-to-justice gap” in which low- and moderate-income persons are unable to afford the fees associated with hiring an attorney.
One of the proposed solutions to this problem, and the one we will be looking at today, is the use of licensed non-lawyer paraprofessionals, who could charge lower rates for their services, thereby giving low- and moderate-income persons more affordable access to legal advice.
What Are Paraprofessionals?
The legal system in the US and it attendant law firms already make widespread use of paraprofessionals, such as paralegals and legal assistants, in their day to day operations. Part of the reason for this is that they represent a cost-effective way to have staff with a legal background who are able to work on litigation but do not command the same high salaries as a qualified lawyer.
Current, paralegals are able to offer legal advice under the supervision of a licensed attorney. The proposal to close the access-to-justice gap would be to issue licenses that would allow paraprofessionals without a law degree to offer advice, free of supervision, on certain aspects of the law.
Has it Already Been Done?
The use of paraprofessionals, using the limited license model, has already been pioneered in Washington State, Utah, and Oregon.
In 2013, Washington State Supreme Court adopted Admission and Practice Rule 28, which authorized nonlawyer limited license legal technicians to perform specific legal services in the area of domestic relations.
Obtaining a limited license in Washington requires the application to hold an associate’s degree or higher, the completion of additional specified coursework; performing 3,000 hours of paralegal work; passing three law and ethics exams as well as a character and fitness review; and, after licensing, satisfying financial responsibility, continuing legal education and malpractice insurance requirements.
In 2015 Utah enacted a similar system to authorize licensed paralegal practitioners to assist clients in family law, eviction, and consumer debt matters. In 2017, Oregon’s State Bar recommended the “licensure of paraprofessionals who would be authorized to provide limited legal services, without attorney supervision, to self-represented litigants in (1) family law and (2) landlord-tenant proceedings.”
What Are the Potential Benefits?
The number of cases of self-representation in civil legal proceedings has seen a significant rise in recent years, underscoring the need for more affordable legal services.
The licensing of paraprofessionals to offer limited legal advice would allow a larger number of people access to assistance in understanding legal proceedings and completing court forms and other form documents increasing the accessibility of the US civil legal system as a whole.
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Lisa Myers, J.D., L.L.M.
Legal Studies Department Director
J.D. L.L.M. Campbell University
B.A. Corllins University