Posts Tagged ‘Access to justice’

Be Part of the Solution – Volunteer

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

Marianna Fradman, frequently as source for materials that end up here, posted a link to “Pro Bono Report 2015: Treading Water” on the New York City Paralegal Association‘s Linkedin discussion board. The report itself is interesting as are other articles on the “Justice Gap” on The American Lawyer‘s website. I was drawn to the post by Marianna’s lead-in comment, a reminder that all legal professionals be part of the solution to the justice gap problem:

Special Report: The Justice Gap
Big Law is flourishing, yet legal aid is in crisis. Is it something we, paralegals can do? The answer is yes. We can volunteer. It gives a satisfaction, much needed experience and yes, it looks good on a resume too.

Volunteering for pro bono projects benefits you, the paralegal profession, and the public. There’s more on the topic, including some typical volunteer projects in the Volunteering category on this blog. Contact your local paralegal association for opportunities in your area.  Maybe you lead by example your attorneys into doing more to assist in resolving the justice gap!

 

Closing the Gap with LLLTs

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

By now most of you are familiar with Washington state’s new LLLT program, a topic covered here several times. (See the link in “Categories” for “LLLTS, etc.,” a sub-category of “Regulation, Certification and Licensing.” I’ve long argued for a variety of methods of utilizing paralegals as part of efforts to close the access to justice gap in the United States. Now California may join Washington in closing the gap through LLLTs. According to an article in the California Bar Journal, “A State Bar task force last month proposed the development of a pilot program for limited licensing of legal technicians as part of a series of recommendations aimed at closing the so-called “justice gap.” The article is short, but provides a concise telling of the task force’s work, reasoning, and recommendation. As one member of the bar trustees said, ““Our recommendations are a start rather than an end.” There is a long way to go before the recommendation is implemented and, if it is implemented, there’ll still be a lot to do to close the gap.

AAfPE Task Force on the Future of Legal Education

Monday, May 12th, 2014

The American Association for Paralegal Education has established a Task Force on the Future of Legal Education. The Task Force is charged to “study the provision of legal education to non-lawyers in the U.S., including the training of Limited License Legal Technicians and other models, and to make recommendations on how AAfPE and the legal profession can best address these issues.” We are fortunate that Janet Olejar has agreed to chair the task force. Janet is on the Washington State Committee developing and implementing its LLLT program. The task force has members from all five of AAfPE’s regions.

One responsibility of this task force will to research and monitor efforts to utilize well-trained non-lawyers to help address the access to justice problem in the United States, whether those efforts are taking place within state bar associations, the ABA, state legislatures, state court systems (the source of both the Washington State LLLT program and New York’s Navigator program.)

This is an important step forward for AAfPE and the future of legal education. If you are aware of efforts in your state that might be of interest to the Task Force, please let me know.

‘Justice Index’ Scores States on Access to Justice

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

The title of this post is lifted from that of Robert Ambrogi’s on his blog, “LawSites: Tracking New and Intriguing Web Sites for the Legal Profession.” It refers to The Justice Index, a new website that provides “a state-by-state scorecard of resources and initiatives designed to ensure that everyone has equal access to the legal system.” It’s interesting stuff. While every state seems to acknowledge the access to justice problem, many  do comparatively little to address it. Over the next few weeks I hope to do a series of posts about the role paralegals can play, do play, or will be playing is resolving the access to justice problem.

Gambian Paralegals

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

As long as I’m on the topic of paralegal in Africa and access to justice (as I was in a post earlier this week) consider this from “The Point” on allAfrica.com:

Thirty-five students from the University of The Gambia Law Faculty recently concluded a four-day intensive paralegal training at NaNA Conference hall.

The training, which kick-started on Tuesday, was organised by National Agency for Legal Aid (NALA) in collaboration with the West African Law Institute, funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

In his official opening statement, the executive director of NALA, Sanna Dahaba, said access to justice being a fundamental right on its own and one without which other rights such as the right to a fair trial cannot be realized, is at the epitome of human rights. …

According to him, NALA has been engaged in the provision of legal advice and representation to poor persons in The Gambia since its inception.

However, he said challenges to provision of Legal Aid by NALA and other service providers are compounded by limited financial and human resources constraints thus making the services accessible to only a negligible number of deserving persons.

He said the establishment of a Paralegal Scheme in collaboration with Law Faculty of the University of The Gambia and FLAG, therefore, would go a long way towards bridging the human resources gap in the successful delivery of legal aid services countrywide.

They will operate from all legal aid centres across the country thereby ensuring accessibility to justices at even the primary stages of the justice system to the society as a whole. (Emphasis added.)

And that after all really is the point.

Tanzania: Paralegal Training Vital for Justice Execution

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

Even within the United States “paralegal” means different things to different people, leading to confusion even within the bar. However, within the United States there is overall agreement that paralegals assist and are supervised by attorneys. This is not the case in many other countries. In much of Canada and in Great Britain, there appear to be two categories of paralegals: those that work in supportive roles with attorneys and those who practice independently, representing clients in some limited capacity (limited in comparison to attorneys.) In Great Britain, for example, it appears paralegals have much greater leeway based on a common law right of British citizens to select there representatives. I have met with a paralegal who runs an independent office where he supervises other, less experienced and educated, paralegals. In one Canadian province, the second category of paralegal is licensed and regulated. (See the “Canada” category on this blog.)

According to a story on allAfirca.com, entitled, “Tanzania: Paralegal Training Vital for Justice Execution,” Tanzania appears to have been working more on the British model since the concept of paralegals was introduced in the 1990s:

COMPREHENSIVE training for paralegals if well utilised will facilitate the implementation of government’s ambitious plan to enhance access to justice to all.

Quality, effective, efficient and professional legal aid provision will remain a dream if it is not supported by well-organised and strategic training of paralegals, who play a significant role in the provision of legal aid in Tanzania.

This is because legal aid provision is a dynamic and demanding undertaking that requires practitioners to have requisite legal skills and education. It’s true that in the past, paralegal training was not given priority due to, among other things, a limited number of legal disputes, underdeveloped socio-economic, political settings and illiteracy among Tanzanians.

This resulted in having a number of uneducated and non-trained paralegals, who are still operating at the moment. Keneth Sudi, an experienced paralegal practitioner, said “accommodation of unskilled paralegals in legal aid provision stemmed from a huge gap, which existed due to high demand for paralegal services.” (The full story is interesting and well worth the read, but too long to be repeated here.)

The common thread in all jurisdictions is the sense that somehow paralegals can be a significant part of the solution to access to justice problems. In the United States that has generally taken on two aspects – (1) the use of paralegals in traditional law offices to reduce charges to clients from those that would be charged if lawyers charged their hourly rate for all work that must be done on a case and (2) utilization of paralegals in projects specifically designed to meet the needs of those who cannot afford attorneys.

Despite a recognized need for solutions to the access to justice problem and some fairly wide ranging proposals for a national model for access to justice, there have been few systematic, comprehensive attempts to use paralegals in the way Tanzania, Ghana, and others. The Washington state effort to legalize and license legal professionals who are not attorneys is really the closest we have. As yet that program is limited to only domestic relations cases and is really a “paralegal plus” program, working off a base of formally educated paralegals in the traditional sense, but adding additional law school provided training and examinations. (Most law schools require 90 semester credit hours to graduate. The ABA requires 83 semester credit hours to accredit a law school. The additional training for LLLTs in Washington is only about 10% of that.) I hope to write more soon about this LLLT program and will certainly monitor its progress in Washington state. I remain hopeful that my prediction that the paralegals profession (in some form) will end up being an essential and substantial part of the access to justice problem in the United States.

 

Paralegal Access to Justice Programs

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

On accepting his appointment as Senior Counselor for Access to Justice in the Department of Justice where he will lead a newly launched initiative aimed at improving access to civil and criminal legal services, Laurence Tribe stated, “Access to justice for all is at the core of our nation’s values.” The DOJ initiative recognizes a need to “enhance the delivery of legal services to the poor and middle class, and identify and promote alternatives to court-intensive and lawyer-intensive solutions.”[1]

One alternative to lawyer-intensive solutions is the effective utilization of paralegals. The attractiveness and efficacy of this alternative is evidenced by the recent proliferation of paralegal-intensive access-to-justice programs by bar associations, legal clinics, and educational institutions. These programs exist throughout the country.  Examples include:

•           In South Florida, Catholic Charities Legal Services enlists pro bono paralegals to hold free Friday walk-in clinics to help Haitians apply for temporary protected status after the recent hurricane.

•           Lake County, Illinois, where the local bar association uses specially-trained paralegal studies students to assist in providing free legal services for people petitioning the court for guardianship of a minor child.

•           The New York City Paralegal Association provides pro bono services for the Safe Horizon Domestic Violence Law Project.

Each of these programs demonstrates how access to justice can be improved through wise utilization of paralegals. Since one attorney can supervise several well-trained paralegals, more people gain access to legal services and justice.

 

I am interesting in compiling a list of such programs along with information about them. If you are participating, have participated, or simply know about such a program please contact me either by comment here or email and let me know.



[1] “Tribe named Senior Counselor for Access to Justice,” Harvard Law School News and Events, February 26, 2010,  http://www.law.harvard.edu/news/2010/02/26_tribe.senior.counselor.html (Last accessed May 14, 2010

CalBar’s Limited License Working Group‏

Saturday, May 18th, 2013

Thanks to Barbara Liss several LinkedIn discussion forums are discussing the California Bar’s Working Group on Limited Licensing. The best discussion I’ve read so far is on NFPA’s board: http://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&gid=1072727&type=member&item=239565298&commentID=137562643&report.success=8ULbKyXO6NDvmoK7o030UNOYGZKrvdhBhypZ_w8EpQrrQI-BBjkmxwkEOwBjLE28YyDIxcyEO7_TA_giuRN#commentID_137562643.

The discussion is based on a story in the California Bar Journalthat states:

Looking for ways to increase consumer protection and expand legal services to poor Californians, the State Bar’s Board of Trustees began studying the idea of limited-practice licensing following a bar retreat in San Diego this January. The working group, an advisory body that will ultimately make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees’ Regulation, Admissions and Discipline Committee, held its first public meeting on April 11. The group heard from Littlewood and other speakers, including a representative from the Law Society of Upper Canada.

The article also does a fairly good job of describing the program recently initiated in the state of  Washington.

Of particular interest is Barbara’s initial comment and Kathleen Mountjoy’s response, both of which are set forth below in full. I haven’t asked for permission to do this re-posting so Barbara, Kathleen, and NFPA, if there’s an objection, please let me know and I’ll remove them.

Barbara:

The concern I have is about whether the California State Bar is the appropriate vehicle for oversight of any limited license legal technician or whether instead a division of the California Department of Consumer Affairs is the better avenue. At present, Consumer Affairs has a division for licensed professional fiduciaries and private investigators. The Secretary of State’s office is charged with monitoring immigration consultants (and hasn’t done a very good job of it, frankly, but that’s not entirely the SOS’s fault, the code is missing any educational requirements and doesn’t specify any continuing legal education requirements either).

The State Bar is the entity that monitors lawyers’ behavior and makes sure that the lawyer monopoly is protected. Therefore, it would have a direct conflict of interest if it was also charged with determining what falls in the realm of work for limited license legal technicians and what is outside the scope and thus UPL. It seems to me that a more independent board charged with this responsibility, answerable to the Dept. of Consumer Affairs would be the better and more objective entity to make that call.

Kathleen:

Regarding Barbara’s comments. Good thinking on the DOCA oversight authority. However, LDAs are governed by the DOCA and it does nothing. ALDAP complained to the DOCA, providing investigative reports and evidence concerning fraud upon unknowing consumers (we performed a number of sting operations much like contractors do). We reported to the State Bar, local law enforcement, including District Attorney’s offices and DOCA. No response from the DOCA. The other agencies did respond, but it took months.

Before its demise, ALDAP was working on a proposal that the Secretary of State should be the agency to govern LDAs inasmuch as it already governs notaries and immigration consultants. I really like how the SOS maintains a page on its website where consumers can look up an immigration consultant’s credentials and photograph. I also like how the SOS sent me a re-register letter the week before my IC registration lapsed.

I transcribe immigration trial tapes and can tell you from the testimony I have banged out that the ALJs are well aware of the fraud and incompetence of ICs and actually, many know the worst ICs by their business or personal name. They ask who did your paperwork and they ask other questions such as where did you meet this person, how much did you pay, what is their address, phone? It is up to the ALJ and the federal attorney to report these abusers and they do – or at the least, it has been placed on record that they plan to do so.

It seems to me that the SOS would be the best “monitor” as you are correct, Cal Bar only has quasi authority over non-attorneys. In any event, as we at ALDAP were told, California does not have a budget or means to investigate non-attorney consumer protection fraud. Some of the DA offices told us that its fraud unit can only handle child abuse, elder abuse and bad checks – all due to budget cuts.

I doubt this licensing will gain teeth just yet. And it will be interesting to see the legislation itself if and when it appears. Registration vs. licensing? Law Students or law grads? But let us hope, for the sake of consumers, that paralegals and LDAs not be allowed to provide legal advice. Yes, there are those that would be exceptional, but there are far more who could cause harm consumers’ rights and remedies due to lack of knowledge and misperception of the law/statutes. I have seen paralegals time and time again, create documents with points and authorities which were incomprehensible. As a paralegal I know to seek legal advice from competent attorneys and I do for my own personal legal matters.

LDAs are, pursuant to statute, allowed to provide published information to their clients. In that regard, I supply my clients with rules of court, attorney practice guide information and sample documents – and any other writings or publications I can locate if necessary. This helps self-representing court users to gain success with their legal matters and I avoid UPL. If my clients are unable to comprehend the materials, I tell them that they should seek the services of legal counsel. This is also pursuant to statute. However, such a determination is in and of itself UPL. My provision of the published information creates a threshold for which such a determination may be made.

Finally, AB 590 provides for mandatory attorney pro bono work on behalf of impoverished parties in civil cases who meet the “criteria.” I would like to see Cal Bar institute mandatory pro bono attorney clinics – to work much like MCLE – where attorneys are required to donate so many hours to providing any and all inquiring consumers with free legal advice (much like the law library programs).

The article states, “If Washington State’s experience and California’s history is any indication, it could be a long and contentious road ahead for a State Bar of California group exploring the idea of a limited-practice licensing program.” This is likely true. However, I do hope that at the end of that road is a good legislation creating the limited license. It is important for the paralegal profession, but even more important is the effect it can have on the access to justice problem in the United States.

Limited Practice Licenses and Access to Justice – Updated

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

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!

Another Voice on Access to Justice

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

Just a few weeks ago the dean and president of Vermont Law School spoke out on the increasing role of nonlawyers in serving the legal needs of our community. This is, of course, a opportunity for paralegals as I noted in my post regarding his comments. However, my focus in this regard has been on the role paralegals can play in resolving the access to justice problem in the United States (see the “Access to Justice” category.) In 2010 I commented, “On accepting his appointment as Senior Counselor for Access to Justice in the Department of Justice where he will lead a newly launched initiative aimed at improving access to civil and criminal legal services, Laurence Tribe stated, ‘Access to justice for all is at the core of our nation’s values.’ The DOJ initiative recognizes a need to ‘enhance the delivery of legal services to the poor and middle class, and identify and promote alternatives to court-intensive and lawyer-intensive solutions.’ One alternative to lawyer-intensive solutions is the effective utilization of paralegals.”

Now Gillian Hadfield, the Richard L. and Antoinette Kirtland professor of law and economics at the University of Southern California, is making a similar point. While I’ve based many of my comments on the model presently being tested in Ontario, Canada (see “Canada” category,) Professor Kirtland focuses on the differences between the present American system and the system in place in Great Britain in a story on CNN.  First. some of her statements on the present status of access to justice in the U.S.:

In our country, lawyers and judges regulate their own markets. The upshot is that getting legal help is enormously expensive and out of reach for the vast majority of Americans. Anyone faced with a contract dispute, family crisis, foreclosure or eviction must pay a lawyer with a JD degree to provide service one-on-one in the same way lawyers have done business for hundreds of years.

Increasingly, the only “persons” with access to legal help are “artificial persons” — corporations, organizations and governments. No wonder that in a 2010 New York study, it was shown 95% of people in housing court are unrepresented. The same is true in consumer credit and child support cases; 44% of people in foreclosures are representing themselves—against a well-represented bank, no small number of whom engaged in robo-signing and sued people based on faulty information.

These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. For every person who is unrepresented in court there are probably tens of thousands who didn’t have any legal advice when they did the things that landed them in hot water in the first place. Who can afford $200 to $300 an hour to get advice on local small business regulations, the fine print in a mortgage document, or how not to make mistakes that will cost you in court when fighting over kids and money with your soon-to-be ex-spouse?

Professor Kirtland then reinforces my point:

That’s why the only way to increase access to justice is to expand the group of people and organizations that can provide legal help beyond JD-trained and licensed lawyers.

Authorized nonlawyers and organizations could help ease our overburdened courts in many ways. Each year, 2.3 million New Yorkers, for example, represent themselves in state courts. These litigants do not want to be in court or to manage their problems alone, but have no other practical choice. They frequently labor under huge misunderstandings about legal procedures, requirements and forms. Oodles of judges and lawyers have complained about the delays and complications these misunderstandings create.

Imagine how much more efficient the court would be if the unrepresented could obtain low-cost legal assistance from people expert enough to help them navigate the process. Especially if those people were using the systems and protocols developed by a large-scale company, maybe even online.

She then uses the Great Britain system to illustrate her point:

The use of non-JD legal assistants and nonlawyer dominated businesses is not a venture into uncharted waters. The United Kingdom has a long history of allowing a wide variety of differently trained individuals and organizations provide legal assistance, and studies show that the practice works very well. In many cases, people are better served by a nonlawyer organization that specializes in a particular type of legal help—navigating housing or bankruptcy matters, for example—than they are by a solo practitioner with a general practice.

Furthermore, when people have access to lower-cost alternatives to full-fledged attorneys, they use these resources. In practical terms, that means that only 5% to 10% ignore their legal issues in the United Kingdom. Compare that to New York, where significant majorities of low-income households with legal problems—65% with housing problems, 59% with financial issues, 50% with health insurance problems—do nothing in response to their problems. But as often is the case, untreated problems lead to worse problems—and bigger headaches for our courts.

The entire article is well worth the read. Her solution is to change the way we regulate the provision of legal services, a proposal that we as a country should seriously consider. Indeed, it is past time for mere consideration. It is time to begin acting on this type of proposal and legal professionals of all stripes should be at the forefront of that process.

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