Another State Considers Licensing for Limited Practice

This blog has often suggested that it would be worthwhile for the U.S. to consider licensing paralegals for limited practice, perhaps modeled on the system in Ontario Province in Canada (See the “Canada” category.) Recently Washington state  established a board charged with investigating the possibility, a board that is moving forward with paralegal help as Brenda Cothary, President of the Washington State Paralegal Association was appointed to the board. Janet Olejar, a member of the American Association for Paralegal Education was also appointed to that board.

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Now another state is considering limited-practice licenses.  The February issue of the California Bar Journal includes an article entitled, “State Bar to Look at Limited-Practice Licensing Program.” Unfortunately since this is a state bar initiative, the article casts the efforts in terms that I think somewhat misses the point. While there is recognition of the fact that such licensing would help resolve access to justice issues, e.g., “Trustee Heather L. Rosing said those who can’t afford the services of a licensed attorney are often forced to turn to non-lawyers because of cost,” but the bar seems primarily interested in improving the “State Bar’s regulatory function” and creating “an avenue of employment for law school graduates and legal technicians who haven’t passed the bar, board members said. Engaging in limited practice might be an avenue to eventually becoming a qualified lawyer.”

This focus on the bar and law students is not the best approach. The fact is that many paralegals are quite able to assist members of the public in a limited way and have no desire to becoming lawyers. The goal should be to match those competent persons with the people who need them in a way that protects the public. Improving the regulatory function of a state bar association or providing work for law students who can’t pass the bar should come fairly far down the list of priorities.

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