Is There a Role for Independent Paralegals?

Melissa H. of Paralegalese continues a great dialogue regarding independent paralegals asking of the legal profession, “Where are we going?”and  stating, “When people are willing to forego the licensed professional for the regulated document preparer, it’s time to rethink the status quo.”  In my comment to that post I noted there is a tension between the need to provide legal services at an affordable cost and the legal profession’s desire to monopolize the legal field. If the latter is going to continue, the profession must find a way to achieve the former. My rather preliminary research into legal systems in other countries indicate that lawyers continue to flourish even when others are not excluded.

I believe that paralegals are the answer to this problem. The question is how we protect the public while providing that answer. One way is to insist upon supervision by an attorney who has a license to protect. Another is through regulation. You are correct that the legal profession must ultimately deal with the fact that, “When people are willing to forego the licensed professional for the regulated document preparer, it’s time to rethink the status quo.”

One concern I have is that public may become confused by the existence of both supervised and “independent” paralegals. If “independents” are allowed, they must be regulated for the protection of the public (not the protection of lawyers) and should probably be required to call themselves something other than “paralegals.”

Since reading Melissa’s post and making that comment I’ve run across an article entitled, “THE ROLE OF INDEPENDENT PARALEGALS IN IMPROVING THE QUALITY AND DELIVERY OF LEGAL SERVICES” by Joi Pierce Cregler (which is curiously annotated as “Edited for the Bellow-Sacks Project. This document may be used for discussion purposes only. General distribution prohibited.”) While I am not incomplete agreement with the reasoning or the conclusions of the article, it is worth the read for anyone interested in this issue.

The article references some studies that provide important background for this discussion: “Relying upon lawyers alone to increase access to justice has proven to be inadequate. Currently, fewer than seventeen percent of U. S. Lawyers accept pro bono cases. Moreover, given that there have never been more than four thousand American legal aid lawyers, the federally funded legal aid program is able to serve only a very small percentage of the poor. While legal needs are unmet for low- and middle-income Americans, a majority of U. S. legal resources are utilized to serve the wealthiest individuals and corporations. Left unaddressed, this disparity in access to justice will continue to erode public confidence in the legal system and fuel dissatisfaction with the legal profession.” (footnotes omitted) Thus these studies may provide empirical support for Melissa’s instinctive conclusions.

More surprisingly, the article also notes, “The study also found that individuals often do not seek legal assistance because of their perception that the involvement of a lawyer will not solve their legal problem.”(emphasis added)

The article argues for replacing of UPL laws with regard to independent paralegals with a system of regulation and licensing. In the final section of the paper, Cregler “challenges the assumption that licensing Independent Paralegals will create a group of ‘second-class’ legal services providers.”

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6 Comments

  • Melissa says:

    This paper was fascinating! I am impressed that the project was supported by Harvard Law. It shows that paralegals are not the only ones who value our unique contributions to the legal world. It also lends legitimacy to the growing call for regulation of non-lawyer legal professionals, supervised or not.

  • […] Of course, I am principally interested because of the timing of the article in relation to the discussion here and at Paralegalese on the issue of “independent” […]

  • Thank you Professor Mongue for sharing this incredible article “THE ROLE OF INDEPENDENT PARALEGALS IN IMPROVING THE QUALITY AND DELIVERY OF LEGAL SERVICES” by Joi Pierce Cregler. This proves my point exactly why I have my own Independent Paralegal Business. Everything that is discussed in the article is true and Independent Paralegals will only increase the fair access to the courts. Nobody wants to talk about how People of Color are completly under-represented because the legal profession does not ever what to be accused of not providing fair access to legal services. Myself I would like to see this article happen, I specialize in many areas that alot of attoneys won’t touch. I am a former State of Colorado Juvenile Probation Officer 5yrs and I know more about the Criminal Justice process then most District Attorneys and Defense Attroneys because Probation Officers not only supervise clients, Probation Officer get clients from the point of arrest to disposition. Most of my customers cannot I repeat cannot afford attorney representation it is not their fault and this is a shame. I understand that Independent Paralegals are more concerned about learning the Criminal Justice System then makin a profit off of people. My Paralegal business will continue to expand because I specailize in many areas, I am honest, compassionate, knowledgeable in many areas and will help anyone that needs help. I will never limit myself to helping people, the rich, the poor, the under-represented. This article is right on the money and speaks volums. Thank you Efrem B. Martin

  • […] This is interesting for several reasons. One is that it provides a starting point for a type of paralegal that has not previously been discussed on this blog – the paralegal who works as an independent contractor for a variety of attorneys. These paralegals are neither employees of special law offices in the traditional sense and the sense most discussed here. Nor are they “independent”paralegals in the sense of working directly with the public without attorney supervision as discussion several posts in the category “‘Independent’ Paralegals.” […]

  • […] from the question of whether there is a role for truly “independent” paralegals within the current American legal system and, if so, what that role should be, there is some […]

  • […] I have previously posted on the concept of paralegals and lawyers as competitors rather than the legal team we have here in the U.S.  My hope is that we may yet find a middle ground where paralegals gain the maximum ability to aleviate the access to justice problem in the United States. […]

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