Limited Practice Licenses and Access to Justice – Updated

This topic seems to have become “hot” over the last few days. As noted in my previous post, the California Bar Journal for February contains an article indicating that the California State Bar is giving the concept some thought. A current discussion thread on the AAfPE discussion forum responds to concerns expressed by one member that Washington’s states efforts might actually be bad for paralegal (“icing them out.”) The general consensus is that with paralegal and paralegal education representation on the state board charged with moving the issue forward, it is likely to be good for paralegals. Janet Olejar informs the thread, ” truly appreciate the support this listserve is providing from Bob, Pat, Steve, and others. Especially important are the leads I’m receiving from Dr. Barbara Scheffer and Michelle Ryan to understand what is being accomplished in other states and countries to register or license paralegals/technicians. Please keep these leads coming. You can access documents and the LLLT Board minutes at the www.wsba.org website. Look for the folder under the Boards tab. (Emphasis added.) Other posts refer us to an article from the NY Times last week, “A Call for Drastic Changes in Educating New Lawyers” that includes this:

Paula Littlewood, a task force member and the executive director of the Washington State Bar Association, put it this way to her colleagues: “There’s a time for incremental change and a time for bold change. This is the time for bold change.”

Hers is one state that is not waiting. It has established a board to create a program for limited-license legal technicians, the first in the country. Within a year, the board is expected to lay out the educational and professional framework for the technicians. They will have more training and responsibility than paralegals but will not appear in court or negotiate on their clients’ behalf.

“The consuming public cannot afford lawyers, and the profession needs to figure that out and own it,” Ms. Littlewood said. “Our hope is to provide more access. The second point is that you have these folks out there doing unauthorized practice, which is harming the public. The hope is to bring them under the tent.”

And I’m trying to join the concept of limited practices license with access to justice in Mississippi through a comment to Judge Larry Primeaux’ excellent post on a recent symposium at Ole Miss on Poverty and Access to Justice.

All in all the topic has suddenly become “hot.” I am hopeful that paralegals and paralegal associations throughout the country join in the discussion while it is still on the front burner. If states move forward with limited practice licensing, it will be best for the profession if paralegals are at the head of that movement.

Update: A reply by Kristen to my comment on Judge Primeaux’s blog post provides a link to an article entitled, “The Washington State Limited License Legal Technician Practice Rule: A National First in Access to Justice,” that is well worth reading. Thanks, Kristen!

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