ABA President Stuck in 20th Century

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!

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