The Wall

A recent post on the Paralegal Gateway LinkedIn Discussion Board linked to an posting at Law21 entitled, “And the walls came down…” in which Jordan Furlong explains “the challenges facing the legal profession today and outline the contours of the legal market of tomorrow.” The whole post is well worth the read, but of most interest to most of the readers of this blog (or at least to this blogger) is:

In my home province of Ontario, paralegals are members in full standing of the Law Society of Upper Canada, lawyers’ governing body. The United States will hold out against this trend longer than anyone else — except possibly India — but its arrival here is still only a matter of time. Lawyers will be sharing the market with non-lawyers, and I cannot overstate how important that will prove to be.

Furlong and I agree on this.  We are also in agreement regarding the conclusions to draw from it and the causes of it:

2. Non-lawyers will have proliferated throughout the market.

I dislike that term intensely, by the way: “non-lawyers.” We are the only profession I know that divides the world into “us” and “not us.” We use that term all the time, and we rarely appreciate how insulting it is to the people thus described.

But non-lawyers are coming. We are going to share this market with them. The sooner we accept that and start working to accommodate its impact, the better. They’re coming because they are proving their abilities and reliability every day. They’re coming because lawyers have claimed too much territory under the all-powerful description “the practice of law,” too many activities that do not require a lawyer’s rare and valuable skill and judgment.

And they are coming because we have done a lousy job of serving the entire legal market. Clients, both individual and corporate, are spending more and more and waiting longer and longer for outcomes that leave them less and less satisfied. And that’s just the people who can afford lawyers and the legal system in the first place. Many people are not even in the game at all.

And that is on us. These problems developed on our watch, under our administration and stewardship of the legal system. They are our responsibility. We have had ample opportunity to rectify them, and as everyone here knows, we have not moved fast enough or far enough. So governments and citizens are going to start saying, “Time to let someone else try.” Time to start putting the “Unauthorized Practice of Law” in the history books. Look at what’s happening in England and Wales, and recognize that eventually, inevitably, it will happen here.

I especially focus on the first point, a digression from Furlong’s main point that serves well to illustrate a large part of the problem:

I dislike that term intensely, by the way: “non-lawyers.” We are the only profession I know that divides the world into “us” and “not us.” We use that term all the time, and we rarely appreciate how insulting it is to the people thus described.

This is especially disturbing in its implications for the paralegal profession as it at least suggests that lawyers simply classify all “non-lawyers” as one group, not recognizing the special nature of the paralegal profession and its potential for resolving access to justice and other problems without simply abandoning the “unauthorized practice of law” concept. At the very least, if lawyers are going to create a wall between “us” and “them,” they should recognize that paralegals are and should be on their side of the wall. Working together as two professions that complement each other the two professions can tackle many of the problems set out by Furlong.

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  • Vicki Voisin says:

    I have to agree with you on the term “non-lawyer”, Bob. Yet, when I speak to a group of individuals involved with the legal profession, they may have varying titles from Lawyer to Paralegal Manager to Paralegal to Legal Secretary…and the list goes on. This is a problem. How do I refer to those who are not lawyers? I have finally resorted to “non-lawyers” in that circumstance. It is not intended to be insulting or to create a “wall”, but to help me get my point across. If anyone has a better idea, I would like to hear it. Vicki Voisin, The Paralegal Mentor

  • R. E. Mongue says:

    Good point,Vicki. It’s likely to depend a lot on context. The problem does not arise in the context you posit, especially you are not a lawyer classifying others separate from yourself. It does arise when attorneys use the term to distinguish themselves from everyone else including paralegals. In that context the term symbolizes a mindset that is not helpful to any portion of the legal profession or to finding solutions to the issues raised by the original post. This is especially disappointing because the paralegal might be recognized as an obvious means of resolving some of those problems if attorneys began looking at them as being on the “us” side of the wall rather than on the “they.” Unfortunately too many of my colleague still look at paralegals as persons who can file, take notes, and fetch coffee, instead of the professionals well-trained paralegals are (or could be.)

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