“National Access to Justice: A New Model”

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.

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