Archive for the ‘Access to justice’ Category

Tanzania: Paralegal Training Vital for Justice Execution

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

Even within the United States “paralegal” means different things to different people, leading to confusion even within the bar. However, within the United States there is overall agreement that paralegals assist and are supervised by attorneys. This is not the case in many other countries. In much of Canada and in Great Britain, there appear to be two categories of paralegals: those that work in supportive roles with attorneys and those who practice independently, representing clients in some limited capacity (limited in comparison to attorneys.) In Great Britain, for example, it appears paralegals have much greater leeway based on a common law right of British citizens to select there representatives. I have met with a paralegal who runs an independent office where he supervises other, less experienced and educated, paralegals. In one Canadian province, the second category of paralegal is licensed and regulated. (See the “Canada” category on this blog.)

According to a story on allAfirca.com, entitled, “Tanzania: Paralegal Training Vital for Justice Execution,” Tanzania appears to have been working more on the British model since the concept of paralegals was introduced in the 1990s:

COMPREHENSIVE training for paralegals if well utilised will facilitate the implementation of government’s ambitious plan to enhance access to justice to all.

Quality, effective, efficient and professional legal aid provision will remain a dream if it is not supported by well-organised and strategic training of paralegals, who play a significant role in the provision of legal aid in Tanzania.

This is because legal aid provision is a dynamic and demanding undertaking that requires practitioners to have requisite legal skills and education. It’s true that in the past, paralegal training was not given priority due to, among other things, a limited number of legal disputes, underdeveloped socio-economic, political settings and illiteracy among Tanzanians.

This resulted in having a number of uneducated and non-trained paralegals, who are still operating at the moment. Keneth Sudi, an experienced paralegal practitioner, said “accommodation of unskilled paralegals in legal aid provision stemmed from a huge gap, which existed due to high demand for paralegal services.” (The full story is interesting and well worth the read, but too long to be repeated here.)

The common thread in all jurisdictions is the sense that somehow paralegals can be a significant part of the solution to access to justice problems. In the United States that has generally taken on two aspects – (1) the use of paralegals in traditional law offices to reduce charges to clients from those that would be charged if lawyers charged their hourly rate for all work that must be done on a case and (2) utilization of paralegals in projects specifically designed to meet the needs of those who cannot afford attorneys.

Despite a recognized need for solutions to the access to justice problem and some fairly wide ranging proposals for a national model for access to justice, there have been few systematic, comprehensive attempts to use paralegals in the way Tanzania, Ghana, and others. The Washington state effort to legalize and license legal professionals who are not attorneys is really the closest we have. As yet that program is limited to only domestic relations cases and is really a “paralegal plus” program, working off a base of formally educated paralegals in the traditional sense, but adding additional law school provided training and examinations. (Most law schools require 90 semester credit hours to graduate. The ABA requires 83 semester credit hours to accredit a law school. The additional training for LLLTs in Washington is only about 10% of that.) I hope to write more soon about this LLLT program and will certainly monitor its progress in Washington state. I remain hopeful that my prediction that the paralegals profession (in some form) will end up being an essential and substantial part of the access to justice problem in the United States.

 

Paralegal Access to Justice Programs

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

On accepting his appointment as Senior Counselor for Access to Justice in the Department of Justice where he will lead a newly launched initiative aimed at improving access to civil and criminal legal services, Laurence Tribe stated, “Access to justice for all is at the core of our nation’s values.” The DOJ initiative recognizes a need to “enhance the delivery of legal services to the poor and middle class, and identify and promote alternatives to court-intensive and lawyer-intensive solutions.”[1]

One alternative to lawyer-intensive solutions is the effective utilization of paralegals. The attractiveness and efficacy of this alternative is evidenced by the recent proliferation of paralegal-intensive access-to-justice programs by bar associations, legal clinics, and educational institutions. These programs exist throughout the country.  Examples include:

•           In South Florida, Catholic Charities Legal Services enlists pro bono paralegals to hold free Friday walk-in clinics to help Haitians apply for temporary protected status after the recent hurricane.

•           Lake County, Illinois, where the local bar association uses specially-trained paralegal studies students to assist in providing free legal services for people petitioning the court for guardianship of a minor child.

•           The New York City Paralegal Association provides pro bono services for the Safe Horizon Domestic Violence Law Project.

Each of these programs demonstrates how access to justice can be improved through wise utilization of paralegals. Since one attorney can supervise several well-trained paralegals, more people gain access to legal services and justice.

 

I am interesting in compiling a list of such programs along with information about them. If you are participating, have participated, or simply know about such a program please contact me either by comment here or email and let me know.



[1] “Tribe named Senior Counselor for Access to Justice,” Harvard Law School News and Events, February 26, 2010,  http://www.law.harvard.edu/news/2010/02/26_tribe.senior.counselor.html (Last accessed May 14, 2010

State of Washington Now Accepting Applications for LLLT Education Waivers

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

Via the AAfPE listserv Michael Fitch, a former AAfPE president, forwards an email from the Washington State Bar Association regarding the new Limited License Legal Technician program previously discussed here in January. The program is getting underway and, as the title of this post states, applications are now being accepted for LLLT education waivers. Here’s the email:

WSBA is leading the nation with the implementation of a new program that will educate and license a new classification of legal practitioners called Limited License Legal Technicians (LLLT). LLLTs will possess the knowledge and skills to help the public with specific legal assistance, like selecting and filling out legal forms and guiding them through the legal system.
Experienced and certified paralegals are now eligible to take advantage of a waiver period that allows them to register for courses needed to obtain an LLLT license, while waiving some core education prerequisites.
To qualify for the education waiver, experienced paralegals must have:
  • Passed the Certified Paralegal Exam conducted by NALA OR the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam conducted by NFPA;
  • Active certification as a Certified Paralegal with NALA OR as a PACE Registered Paralegal with NFPA;
  • Completed 10 years of substantive law-related experience supervised by a licensed lawyer.
Classes are planned with professors from all three Washington law schools and will begin at the U of W Law School in September, both live and via webcast.
Waiver applications will be accepted by the WSBA until Sept. 18, 2013 for the fall courses. Family law will be the first practice area licensed, with others to follow in the future. The fee to apply for the waiver is $150.
The goal of the WSBA LLLT program is to provide much-needed access to justice by helping the public access affordable legal and law related services. For more information about the WSBA Limited License Legal Technician program including instructions on applying for the education waiver, please visit www.wsba.org/LLLT or contact Thea Jennings at theaj@wsba.org.

 

California State Bar’s LLLT Proposal

Sunday, June 16th, 2013

Through the AAfPE (and likely several others) LinkedIn discussion board Barbara Liss passes this on:

Here it is! California State Bar’s Limited License Legal Technician Proposal:
http://board.calbar.ca.gov/docs/agendaItem/Public/agendaitem1000010722.pdf

The proposal’s Executive Summary says:

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

In March 2013, the Board Committee on Regulation, Admissions & Discipline Oversight created the Limited License Working Group  (“Working Group”)  to explore the issue of licensing legal technicians and whether to create a limited license to practice law program in California. Legal Technicians are not fully licensed attorneys. They would be licensed to provide limited, discrete legal services to consumers in defined legal subject matter areas only.

The bottom line:

ISSUE – Should the State Bar of California propose a further study, development, and implementation of  a limited license to practice law program in California?

CONCLUSION -Yes.

So some progress is being made, but I am always leery of the study groups conclusion that an issue should be further studied. Sometimes that’s just a way to bottle up a proposal. (See, e.g., Congress.)

Thanks to Barbara there’s been a lot of discussion of this issue on various LinkedIn discussion boards. Some of that discussion is excerpted on this blog here.

CalBar’s Limited License Working Group‏

Saturday, May 18th, 2013

Thanks to Barbara Liss several LinkedIn discussion forums are discussing the California Bar’s Working Group on Limited Licensing. The best discussion I’ve read so far is on NFPA’s board: http://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&gid=1072727&type=member&item=239565298&commentID=137562643&report.success=8ULbKyXO6NDvmoK7o030UNOYGZKrvdhBhypZ_w8EpQrrQI-BBjkmxwkEOwBjLE28YyDIxcyEO7_TA_giuRN#commentID_137562643.

The discussion is based on a story in the California Bar Journalthat states:

Looking for ways to increase consumer protection and expand legal services to poor Californians, the State Bar’s Board of Trustees began studying the idea of limited-practice licensing following a bar retreat in San Diego this January. The working group, an advisory body that will ultimately make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees’ Regulation, Admissions and Discipline Committee, held its first public meeting on April 11. The group heard from Littlewood and other speakers, including a representative from the Law Society of Upper Canada.

The article also does a fairly good job of describing the program recently initiated in the state of  Washington.

Of particular interest is Barbara’s initial comment and Kathleen Mountjoy’s response, both of which are set forth below in full. I haven’t asked for permission to do this re-posting so Barbara, Kathleen, and NFPA, if there’s an objection, please let me know and I’ll remove them.

Barbara:

The concern I have is about whether the California State Bar is the appropriate vehicle for oversight of any limited license legal technician or whether instead a division of the California Department of Consumer Affairs is the better avenue. At present, Consumer Affairs has a division for licensed professional fiduciaries and private investigators. The Secretary of State’s office is charged with monitoring immigration consultants (and hasn’t done a very good job of it, frankly, but that’s not entirely the SOS’s fault, the code is missing any educational requirements and doesn’t specify any continuing legal education requirements either).

The State Bar is the entity that monitors lawyers’ behavior and makes sure that the lawyer monopoly is protected. Therefore, it would have a direct conflict of interest if it was also charged with determining what falls in the realm of work for limited license legal technicians and what is outside the scope and thus UPL. It seems to me that a more independent board charged with this responsibility, answerable to the Dept. of Consumer Affairs would be the better and more objective entity to make that call.

Kathleen:

Regarding Barbara’s comments. Good thinking on the DOCA oversight authority. However, LDAs are governed by the DOCA and it does nothing. ALDAP complained to the DOCA, providing investigative reports and evidence concerning fraud upon unknowing consumers (we performed a number of sting operations much like contractors do). We reported to the State Bar, local law enforcement, including District Attorney’s offices and DOCA. No response from the DOCA. The other agencies did respond, but it took months.

Before its demise, ALDAP was working on a proposal that the Secretary of State should be the agency to govern LDAs inasmuch as it already governs notaries and immigration consultants. I really like how the SOS maintains a page on its website where consumers can look up an immigration consultant’s credentials and photograph. I also like how the SOS sent me a re-register letter the week before my IC registration lapsed.

I transcribe immigration trial tapes and can tell you from the testimony I have banged out that the ALJs are well aware of the fraud and incompetence of ICs and actually, many know the worst ICs by their business or personal name. They ask who did your paperwork and they ask other questions such as where did you meet this person, how much did you pay, what is their address, phone? It is up to the ALJ and the federal attorney to report these abusers and they do – or at the least, it has been placed on record that they plan to do so.

It seems to me that the SOS would be the best “monitor” as you are correct, Cal Bar only has quasi authority over non-attorneys. In any event, as we at ALDAP were told, California does not have a budget or means to investigate non-attorney consumer protection fraud. Some of the DA offices told us that its fraud unit can only handle child abuse, elder abuse and bad checks – all due to budget cuts.

I doubt this licensing will gain teeth just yet. And it will be interesting to see the legislation itself if and when it appears. Registration vs. licensing? Law Students or law grads? But let us hope, for the sake of consumers, that paralegals and LDAs not be allowed to provide legal advice. Yes, there are those that would be exceptional, but there are far more who could cause harm consumers’ rights and remedies due to lack of knowledge and misperception of the law/statutes. I have seen paralegals time and time again, create documents with points and authorities which were incomprehensible. As a paralegal I know to seek legal advice from competent attorneys and I do for my own personal legal matters.

LDAs are, pursuant to statute, allowed to provide published information to their clients. In that regard, I supply my clients with rules of court, attorney practice guide information and sample documents – and any other writings or publications I can locate if necessary. This helps self-representing court users to gain success with their legal matters and I avoid UPL. If my clients are unable to comprehend the materials, I tell them that they should seek the services of legal counsel. This is also pursuant to statute. However, such a determination is in and of itself UPL. My provision of the published information creates a threshold for which such a determination may be made.

Finally, AB 590 provides for mandatory attorney pro bono work on behalf of impoverished parties in civil cases who meet the “criteria.” I would like to see Cal Bar institute mandatory pro bono attorney clinics – to work much like MCLE – where attorneys are required to donate so many hours to providing any and all inquiring consumers with free legal advice (much like the law library programs).

The article states, “If Washington State’s experience and California’s history is any indication, it could be a long and contentious road ahead for a State Bar of California group exploring the idea of a limited-practice licensing program.” This is likely true. However, I do hope that at the end of that road is a good legislation creating the limited license. It is important for the paralegal profession, but even more important is the effect it can have on the access to justice problem in the United States.

Another Voice on Access to Justice

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

Just a few weeks ago the dean and president of Vermont Law School spoke out on the increasing role of nonlawyers in serving the legal needs of our community. This is, of course, a opportunity for paralegals as I noted in my post regarding his comments. However, my focus in this regard has been on the role paralegals can play in resolving the access to justice problem in the United States (see the “Access to Justice” category.) In 2010 I commented, “On accepting his appointment as Senior Counselor for Access to Justice in the Department of Justice where he will lead a newly launched initiative aimed at improving access to civil and criminal legal services, Laurence Tribe stated, ‘Access to justice for all is at the core of our nation’s values.’ The DOJ initiative recognizes a need to ‘enhance the delivery of legal services to the poor and middle class, and identify and promote alternatives to court-intensive and lawyer-intensive solutions.’ One alternative to lawyer-intensive solutions is the effective utilization of paralegals.”

Now Gillian Hadfield, the Richard L. and Antoinette Kirtland professor of law and economics at the University of Southern California, is making a similar point. While I’ve based many of my comments on the model presently being tested in Ontario, Canada (see “Canada” category,) Professor Kirtland focuses on the differences between the present American system and the system in place in Great Britain in a story on CNN.  First. some of her statements on the present status of access to justice in the U.S.:

In our country, lawyers and judges regulate their own markets. The upshot is that getting legal help is enormously expensive and out of reach for the vast majority of Americans. Anyone faced with a contract dispute, family crisis, foreclosure or eviction must pay a lawyer with a JD degree to provide service one-on-one in the same way lawyers have done business for hundreds of years.

Increasingly, the only “persons” with access to legal help are “artificial persons” — corporations, organizations and governments. No wonder that in a 2010 New York study, it was shown 95% of people in housing court are unrepresented. The same is true in consumer credit and child support cases; 44% of people in foreclosures are representing themselves—against a well-represented bank, no small number of whom engaged in robo-signing and sued people based on faulty information.

These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. For every person who is unrepresented in court there are probably tens of thousands who didn’t have any legal advice when they did the things that landed them in hot water in the first place. Who can afford $200 to $300 an hour to get advice on local small business regulations, the fine print in a mortgage document, or how not to make mistakes that will cost you in court when fighting over kids and money with your soon-to-be ex-spouse?

Professor Kirtland then reinforces my point:

That’s why the only way to increase access to justice is to expand the group of people and organizations that can provide legal help beyond JD-trained and licensed lawyers.

Authorized nonlawyers and organizations could help ease our overburdened courts in many ways. Each year, 2.3 million New Yorkers, for example, represent themselves in state courts. These litigants do not want to be in court or to manage their problems alone, but have no other practical choice. They frequently labor under huge misunderstandings about legal procedures, requirements and forms. Oodles of judges and lawyers have complained about the delays and complications these misunderstandings create.

Imagine how much more efficient the court would be if the unrepresented could obtain low-cost legal assistance from people expert enough to help them navigate the process. Especially if those people were using the systems and protocols developed by a large-scale company, maybe even online.

She then uses the Great Britain system to illustrate her point:

The use of non-JD legal assistants and nonlawyer dominated businesses is not a venture into uncharted waters. The United Kingdom has a long history of allowing a wide variety of differently trained individuals and organizations provide legal assistance, and studies show that the practice works very well. In many cases, people are better served by a nonlawyer organization that specializes in a particular type of legal help—navigating housing or bankruptcy matters, for example—than they are by a solo practitioner with a general practice.

Furthermore, when people have access to lower-cost alternatives to full-fledged attorneys, they use these resources. In practical terms, that means that only 5% to 10% ignore their legal issues in the United Kingdom. Compare that to New York, where significant majorities of low-income households with legal problems—65% with housing problems, 59% with financial issues, 50% with health insurance problems—do nothing in response to their problems. But as often is the case, untreated problems lead to worse problems—and bigger headaches for our courts.

The entire article is well worth the read. Her solution is to change the way we regulate the provision of legal services, a proposal that we as a country should seriously consider. Indeed, it is past time for mere consideration. It is time to begin acting on this type of proposal and legal professionals of all stripes should be at the forefront of that process.

….

Who is he talking about?

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

According to ABAJournal.comVermont Law School Plans to Downsize Staff; Dean Says Nonlawyer Specialists Will Do More Legal Work The dean and president of Vermont Law School states:

The field of health care has been transformed with more cost-effective treatment by nurse practitioners and physician assistants, and the legal field will follow with less work being done by lawyers, according to a law dean who is preparing for changes ahead by downsizing…

Mihaly told AP that law firms will no longer be staffed only with lawyers. ‘‘The market and technology are going to take that model and shake it,” he said. Firms will instead give more work to specialists who have less than three years of legal training, he said.

This is not surprising.  As regular readers of this blog know I view paralegals as a large part of the solution to the access to justice problem in the United States. However, the profession will not be able realize its full potential until it is recognized as a profession in the same sense that physician assistants and nurse practitioners are in the medial field as mentioned by Mihaly. There has been great progress in this regard, usually lead by paralegal professional associations such as NALA, NFPA, and NALS.

But let’s talk a bit more about  who these “specialists who have less than three years of legal training” are as it presents quite an array of opportunities for paralegals. For example, I am presently schedule to present as part of a six part webinar sponsored by the Organization of Legal Professionals on the Role of the Trial Technician. This edition starts in February of 2013. (It was last presented at the end of 2011 and this will be a “new and improved” version.) OLP also provides training and certification in e-discovery specialties.  In short, Mihaly is talking about a paralegal with specialized experience, training, and certification. If he sees the future correctly (and I think he does), the world is just beginning to open up for the effective, efficient, and professional paralegal.

Disclosure: I am also on the OLP Advisory Board although OLP seems to do quite well with little advice from me!

More on Washington State Licensing Rule

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

I’m just now finding my way to looking closer at the new Washington Admission to Practice Rule 28 which creates a new legal service provider category named Limited License Legal Technician assisted by the post on the AAfPE LinkedIn discussion board by Sally Bisson, J.D., Professor and Director of Paralegal Program at College of Saint Mary. She links to a news release at legaco.com that provides a nice synopsis of the rule.

Those of you who have read my posts on great need for a solution to the access to justice problem in the U.S. and my strong belief that paralegals are likely to be a major part of that solution (See “Access to Justice” category) would probably guess my enthusiasm for the Court’s reasoning:

According to the Washington State Supreme Court:

“ there are people who need only limited levels of assistance that can be provided by non-lawyers trained and overseen within the frameworks of the regulator system. … This assistance should be available and affordable. Our system of justice requires it…[P]rotecting the monopoly status of attorneys in any practice area is not a legitimate objective.”

While the licensed personnel will be called “Legal Technicians” it is interesting to note the requirements for the license include paralegal training:

Requirements

In order to be licensed, Legal Technicians must:

  • have a formal paralegal training, and paralegal job experience,
  • have completed at least 20 hours of pro bono legal service in Washington State within the prior two years,
  • take and pass an exam and pay annual license fees,
  • show proof of financial responsibility,
  • have a principal place of business with a physical street address in Washington State,
  • personally perform services for the client,
  • complete a number of credit hours in courses or activities approved by the Board,
  • enter into a written contract describing their services and fees with their client prior of the performance of services.

While the license will not permit activities as extensive as those allowed in Ontario (see “Canada” category,) the list of permitted activities goes well beyond what is allow in most (if not all – I did not check California’s rules today) American jurisdictions:

Scope of Practice

Legal Technicians are allowed to:

  • explain facts and relevancy,
  • inform the client of procedures and “anticipated course of the legal proceeding,”
  • provide the client with self-help materials approved by the Board or prepared by a Washington state lawyer,
  • review and explain the other sides documents and exhibits,
  • select and complete forms approved by various groups,
  • perform legal research and write legal letters and documents, but only if reviewed by a Washington lawyer,
  • advise the client about other needed documents,
  • assist the client in obtaining needed documents.

One concern for those of us advocating an expanded role for paralegals is the ability to monitor for “bad behavior,” a task now rather cumbersomely performed indirectly through discipline of the supervising attorney. The Washington rule applies many of those rules directly to the practitioner:

Legal Technician-Client Relationship

Additionally, rules regarding attorney-client privilege and fiduciary responsibility to the client apply to the Legal Technician-client relationship to the same extent as they apply to attorney-client relationships.

I will definitely being keeping an eye on the implementation of this rule and the effects of that implementation on the public and the practitioners. In a few years perhaps we will have a report similar to that just issued on the “Ontario experiment.”

“National Access to Justice: A New Model”

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

From time to time Clifford S. Smith weighs in here with a comment to one of my posts. His most recent was this comment to my post, “ABA President Stuck in 20th Century:”

I disagree with the ABA’s position and have put together a short paper that provides an alternative basis that would meet the needs of people who have no access to justice.

The paper, “National Access to Justice: A New Model” can be downloaded from http://napa.club.officelive.com/Documents/NatAccessJusticeArticle.pdf

At my request Clifford as done a summary of his paper which I post here as a “Guest Blog:”

National Access to Justice: A New Model, presents a viable solution on expanding the role of paralegals using the existing federal framework of the Administrative Procedures Act, where a non-lawyer is authorized to represent people appearing before federal agencies and hearings.   

Many studies have shown that low to moderate income people can’t afford to hire a lawyer. More often than not, it has led to innocent people being convicted of crimes, only later to be exonerated by DNA establishing their innocence.   

Licensing paralegals under federal law and expanding their role would allow paralegals to provide limited legal services in areas of federal law, such as social security; patent, trademark and copyright; federal child support; bankruptcy; and limited representation in federal civil and criminal matters.  Such representation would fall under an adaptation of an exigent circumstance rule used in urgent situations; where a paralegal would only represent client if they could not locate a lawyer to take a case on a pro bono basis.

Because of the history of paralegals being targeted by state bar associations for unauthorized practice of law, the interest of state regulated lawyers would be balanced with the interest of federally regulated paralegals. This separation of legal fields would be good for competition.

Education would be adapted to train paralegals in specific areas of federal law where paralegals would practice, while also teaching the federal rules of civil and criminal procedure, evidence, legal writing and general advocacy.  Certificate programs would be based on practical skills for advocating cases before federal agencies and, in urgent situations, before federal trial courts.

Programs would be based on the California model of 24 semester units in law-related studies, thus avoiding the general studies areas required of longer degree programs, which have little practical application.  Continuing education would also be mandatory and lead to paralegal specializations.

Federal licensing would empower paralegals and lead to professional autonomy while also addressing the legal needs of millions of working people who have no access to justice. Once licensed, paralegals could be deployed to crisis regions across the United States, in order to effectively target the regions that need assistance the most.

The Administrative Procedures Act provides the perfect model to expand the role of paralegals while serving the legal needs of people who need it the most.  

Clifford is also a contributor to The Empowered Paralegal Professionalism Anthology.

ABA President Stuck in 20th Century

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

I was quite disappointed in the comments of the current ABA president as reported in this from ABAJournal.com:
 
ABA President: Allowing Nonlawyers to Practice Law Isn’t Solution to Justice Gap
Posted Aug 31, 2011 7:44 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss 

ABA President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III agrees the poor need more legal help, but says deregulating law practice is not the answer.

Robinson outlines the ABA’s views on legal aid for the poor in a letter to the editor of the New York Times. His letter responds to a Times op-ed last week that suggests the “justice gap” could be addressed by allowing nonlawyers “into the mix” who could handle easier matters such as uncontested divorces. A Wall Street Journal op-ed by two Brookings Institution fellows, also published last week, made a similar point.

Robinson disagrees. “A rush to open the practice of law to unschooled, unregulated nonlawyers is not the solution,” he writes. “This would cause grave harm to clients. Even matters that appear simple, such as uncontested divorces, involve myriad legal rights and responsibilities. If the case is not handled by a professional with appropriate legal training, a person can suffer serious long-term consequences affecting loved ones or financial security.”

Robinson offers another solution: more funding for the Legal Services Corp. He also points out that the ABA supports lawyer pro bono and legal aid funding provided by Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts.

Of course I agree that we should not “rush to open the practice of law to unschooled, unregulated nonlawyers.” But it appears that Mr. Robinson is unaware that many paralegals are very well schooled, many in programs that have been approved by the ABA itself! In addition, many have received advanced certificatification from associations such as NFPA, NALA, NALS, OLP, and other organizations every bit as professional as the ABA. 

And the regulation comment is a definite red-herring. If the problem is a lack of regulation, then propose some regulations – the ABA is no stranger to that process, having adopted Model Rules for just about everything to which model rules would apply and is well-versed in lobbying legislatures to get legislation adopted. Worse comes to worse, the ABA might be able to crib some of the basic from Canada.  (See the “Canada” category for posts on the system of licensing paralegals to work independently for attorney in limited areas in one Canadian province.) If the ABA cannot handle this on its own, there are hundreds of members of paralegals associations that can help them get the job done – just as they help attorneys get the job done in offices across the country.

Unfortunately, Mr. Robinson’s comments have an air of simply “protecting the turf.” However, as discussed in several posts here (see “Access to Justice” category), this is not turf that needs protecting. The problem is that many people simply cannot afford an attorney and attorneys will not provide the services these people need. Licensing and regulating trained paralegals will fill a gap in the turf that lawyers simple do not cover, not take the turf away from lawyers.  To suggest that this problem can be handled by more funding for Legal Aid when Congress is focused only on cutting, not adding (the Republican leader is presently insisting that a dollar be cut from programs like and likely including Legal Aid for every additional dollar need to aid victims of Hurricane Irene and otherwise fund FEMA), indicates that Mr. RObinson is simply detached from the many of the realities of access to justice and funding in the 21 Century!