Posts Tagged ‘Access to justice’

Who is he talking about?

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

According to ABAJournal.comVermont Law School Plans to Downsize Staff; Dean Says Nonlawyer Specialists Will Do More Legal Work The dean and president of Vermont Law School states:

The field of health care has been transformed with more cost-effective treatment by nurse practitioners and physician assistants, and the legal field will follow with less work being done by lawyers, according to a law dean who is preparing for changes ahead by downsizing…

Mihaly told AP that law firms will no longer be staffed only with lawyers. ‘‘The market and technology are going to take that model and shake it,” he said. Firms will instead give more work to specialists who have less than three years of legal training, he said.

This is not surprising.  As regular readers of this blog know I view paralegals as a large part of the solution to the access to justice problem in the United States. However, the profession will not be able realize its full potential until it is recognized as a profession in the same sense that physician assistants and nurse practitioners are in the medial field as mentioned by Mihaly. There has been great progress in this regard, usually lead by paralegal professional associations such as NALA, NFPA, and NALS.

But let’s talk a bit more about  who these “specialists who have less than three years of legal training” are as it presents quite an array of opportunities for paralegals. For example, I am presently schedule to present as part of a six part webinar sponsored by the Organization of Legal Professionals on the Role of the Trial Technician. This edition starts in February of 2013. (It was last presented at the end of 2011 and this will be a “new and improved” version.) OLP also provides training and certification in e-discovery specialties.  In short, Mihaly is talking about a paralegal with specialized experience, training, and certification. If he sees the future correctly (and I think he does), the world is just beginning to open up for the effective, efficient, and professional paralegal.

Disclosure: I am also on the OLP Advisory Board although OLP seems to do quite well with little advice from me!

“National Access to Justice: A New Model”

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

From time to time Clifford S. Smith weighs in here with a comment to one of my posts. His most recent was this comment to my post, “ABA President Stuck in 20th Century:”

I disagree with the ABA’s position and have put together a short paper that provides an alternative basis that would meet the needs of people who have no access to justice.

The paper, “National Access to Justice: A New Model” can be downloaded from

At my request Clifford as done a summary of his paper which I post here as a “Guest Blog:”

National Access to Justice: A New Model, presents a viable solution on expanding the role of paralegals using the existing federal framework of the Administrative Procedures Act, where a non-lawyer is authorized to represent people appearing before federal agencies and hearings.   

Many studies have shown that low to moderate income people can’t afford to hire a lawyer. More often than not, it has led to innocent people being convicted of crimes, only later to be exonerated by DNA establishing their innocence.   

Licensing paralegals under federal law and expanding their role would allow paralegals to provide limited legal services in areas of federal law, such as social security; patent, trademark and copyright; federal child support; bankruptcy; and limited representation in federal civil and criminal matters.  Such representation would fall under an adaptation of an exigent circumstance rule used in urgent situations; where a paralegal would only represent client if they could not locate a lawyer to take a case on a pro bono basis.

Because of the history of paralegals being targeted by state bar associations for unauthorized practice of law, the interest of state regulated lawyers would be balanced with the interest of federally regulated paralegals. This separation of legal fields would be good for competition.

Education would be adapted to train paralegals in specific areas of federal law where paralegals would practice, while also teaching the federal rules of civil and criminal procedure, evidence, legal writing and general advocacy.  Certificate programs would be based on practical skills for advocating cases before federal agencies and, in urgent situations, before federal trial courts.

Programs would be based on the California model of 24 semester units in law-related studies, thus avoiding the general studies areas required of longer degree programs, which have little practical application.  Continuing education would also be mandatory and lead to paralegal specializations.

Federal licensing would empower paralegals and lead to professional autonomy while also addressing the legal needs of millions of working people who have no access to justice. Once licensed, paralegals could be deployed to crisis regions across the United States, in order to effectively target the regions that need assistance the most.

The Administrative Procedures Act provides the perfect model to expand the role of paralegals while serving the legal needs of people who need it the most.  

Clifford is also a contributor to The Empowered Paralegal Professionalism Anthology.

Paralegals help expand pro bono services for low-income senior citizens

Monday, August 8th, 2011

The Northeast Florida Paralegal Association is part of a consortium of groups banding together to provide legal services to low-income elderly. According to the Jacksonville Daily Record:

Building on the current efforts of dedicated Jacksonville Area Legal Aid (JALA) pro bono attorneys Pat Vail and Joe Meux, attorneys, paralegals and law school representatives met July 12 at the offices of Akerman Senterfitt to discuss plans for expanding services to low-income senior citizens in Northeast Florida.

The expansion in services will be modeled after the Military Reservists Wills and Advance Directives Pro Bono project that has been offered to Navy and Army reservists at local military facilities.

The services will help to organize their affairs and by planning ahead, these seniors will protect their rights and make informed decisions about their health care, property and family in the event of their own incapacity or death.


By helping senior citizens make these choices, the Senior Citizen Wills and Advance Directives Pro Bono project will help provide stability, dignity and comfort to the seniors and their families as they make decisions during end-of-life chapters.

“There has been deep discussion over how to broaden the reach of the advanced directive program by encouraging other lawyers, paralegals and law students to participate as well,” said attorney Pat Vail, who has provided leadership and advocacy for this population.

Vail added that there have been many “willing hands” interested in helping to provide services to seniors, including members of the Elder Law section of The Jacksonville Bar Association, service coordinators at residential centers, Florida Coastal School of Law, the Northeast Florida Paralegal Association and Jacksonville Area Legal Aid.

This is an excellent idea. In general, bar associations and paralegal associations should work together to maximize access to justice in the United States.  There are no losers and many winners when this happens. The lawyers accomplish far more than they would without the assistance of paralegals. The paralegals gain experience, network, project a good image with both the bar and the public, and satisfy  ethical obligations. And the benefits to the community are obvious.

Kudos to all involved.

Paralegals to Help Filipinos in Dubai.

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Paralegalism takes on identities quite different than that exemplified here in the United States, as can be seen in the posts in the “International Paralegalism” category. However, the role of paralegals as persons who can assist in providing access to justice to those in need remains consistent. Here’s another example, this time from Dubai, published originally in The National

Paralegal ‘first aid’ builds a base for Filipinos to know rights
Ramona Ruiz

DUBAI // Filipinos facing legal and employment-related problems will soon be able to turn to a team of paralegal volunteers for help.

A series of paralegal training workshops starting on Friday in Dubai aims to educate Filipinos about their rights, the labour laws, the Filipino Migrant Workers Act and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

“Our main aim is to form the first paralegal team in the UAE, who will make our compatriots understand their cases better,” said Nhel Morona, the secretary general of migrant rights group Migrante-UAE. “This team will explain the local laws and ways to address their problems and concerns.”

The organisers, Migrante-UAE and the women’s rights group Gabriela-UAE, are targeting leaders and members of the Filipino community to be part of this pool of paralegal volunteers.

For the rest of the story click on the link for The National above.

Paralegals as Answer to Access to Justice Issue in Ontario

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

The Law Society of Upper Canada continues to consider changes in its experiment of paralegal licensure and regulation to assist in remediating access to justice issues. At the moment there is controversy brewing because the LSUC is beginning its discussion of expanding the scope of permitted paralegal activity based on “a decade-old report that backed paralegal calls to practise in that area as the basis for a promised review of the scope of their practice.”

Here’s some of the back-and-forth as reported by Law Times:

Marshall Yarmus, the paralegal whose motion at the annual general meeting last year sparked the commitment to a review, says Cory’s report is a “good starting point.”

“In terms of family law, we’re looking for things beyond what he suggested because paralegals used to be allowed to make appearances in the family court for certain matters,” he says.

“But at least it also addresses other issues like wills, real estate, and other areas of law where paralegals are not currently allowed to practise and [that] he recommended.”

Chris Surowiak, president of the Paralegal Society of Ontario, welcomes the law society’s action on the scope of paralegal practice.

“The public needs assistance within many aspects involving family law and the public can only benefit in using the professional services of a paralegal in this area,” he says. “Expanding our scope of practice can be a win-win for lawyers, paralegals, and ultimately the public.”

But Cynthia Mancia, co-chairwoman of the Family Lawyers Association, isn’t so sure.
“The biggest underlying theme of justice Cory’s [report] was access to justice, and I think it’s a mistake to equate expanding the use of paralegals as an answer to the existing well-documented access-to-justice [issues] that exist,” she says.

“There is a perception out there that paralegals can provide the same services that lawyers provide but more cheaply. The fear family lawyers have is that that perception isn’t grounded in reality.”

I’m somewhat biased on this as I’ve been arguing for quite some time that paralegals should have an expanded role in plugging the access-to-justice gap.  So it may be no surprise that I take issue with Mancia’s characterization.  It seems to me that it is quite correct to equate expanded paralegal actions with an answer to access to justice issues.  The issue is not whether paralegals can provide the same service as attorneys. They cannot. However, there is no reason paralegals can’t provide some services now provided by attorneys at a lower cost thereby expanding access to justice for those who cannot currently afford any representation.

 The position of attorneys who oppose this type of role for properly educated, licensed, and regulated paralegals are contending that somehow people lacking any legal training at all who cannot afford an attorney are better off confronting the legal system on their own. This position is counterintuitive and I strongly suspect they cannot provide any data to back up the claim.

For more on these issues check out  the “Canada” and “Access to Justice” categories.

An Explosion with no Bang

Friday, January 21st, 2011

As is no secret by now, this commentator argues that well-trained, well-regulated, professional paralegals provide one viable answer to the access to justice issue. In support I’ve quoted authorities such as Giliam Hadfield, a Harvard law professor arguing in The Washington Post for innovative approaches to low-cost, quality legal services. He notes,

…in U.S. surveys 30 to 40 percent of Americans with an identifiable legal problem say they do nothing to resolve it, compared with just 5 percent in Britain. Yes, Britain spends far more public funds on ensuring access to justice — $76 in legal aid per capita compared with $13 in the States (including charitable contributions). But the critical difference is the widespread and diverse availability of help in Britain and other advanced-market democracies for people with legal troubles — not just criminal arrest but issues such as foreclosure, divorce, child custody, employment and bankruptcy. The United States urgently needs to expand capacity for non-lawyers to meet the legal needs of ordinary Americans in innovative and less costly ways. [Emphasis added.]

To this I can add the comments of Lester Brickman, Professor of Law at the University of Toledo College of Law writing in the University of Vanderbilt Law Review:

If access to legal services is thus essential for the attainment of democratic values, then the efficacy of the legal delivery system is of supreme importance. Much has been written examining the inefficiency of present methods of law practice as a means of conveying services to the consumer, and still more written decrying the shortage of basic legal services for the poor and for the middle class. In response to this criticism and as a way of meeting other needs, the profession is trying such new delivery systems as group legal services, prepaid legal insurance and specialized practice. Additionally, there has been a virtual explosion of interest in using legal paraprofessionals to assist the lawyer in supplying legal services.

The problem is that Professor Brinkman’s article, “Legal Paraprofessionalism and Its Implications: A Bibliography,” appears in 24 Vand. Law Review. Yes, volume #24 published in 1970-71. How can it be that forty years after a virtual explosiong of interest in using legal paraprofessionals to assist the lawyer in supplying legal services to the poor and middle class that Professor Hadfield can state:

“My research suggests that Americans have a much higher rate of simply giving up in the face of legal difficulties, with effectively nowhere to turn if they cannot afford a lawyer who comes at a minimum price of $150 an hour. This means giving up on seeing their children or saving their homes or credit ratings or jobs. Unlike people in Britain, those facing legal problems in the United States can’t turn to local volunteer organizations, their unions or consumer organizations. They can’t buy what they need from entrepreneurs or the full-service stores like Wal-Mart that now package low-cost eye exams, insurance, banking and more with their diapers and detergents”?

And after forty years,

The United States stands largely alone in advanced-market democracies in drastically restricting where and how people can get help with their legal problems. In all states, under rules created by bar associations and state supreme courts, only people with law degrees and who are admitted to the state bar can provide legal advice and services of any kind.


Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

A while back I was invited to join the New York City Paralegal Association Advisory Committee. Thus far I have been of little assistance to the group. However, while in NYC last week I did have the pleasure of meeting with four members of the NYCPA Executive Board: Mariana Fradman, President, Cynthia Bynum, Vice-President, Nicole DeMent, Treasurer, and Channet Jusino, Secretary.  These Board Members reflect the NYCPA as a whole: remarkably diverse, knowledgeable, competent, and professional. And they pretty much cover the range for the paralegal profession, including a single attorney law office, a very large law office, corporate in-house counsel office, and a “hybrid.”  While the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the association’s involvement in access-to-justice programs, I also learned a lot about NYCPA. I was impressed.

This relatively new paralegal association appears to exemplify the best of professional associations. The creation of a nation-wide advisory committee is just one example. The association also provides CLE programs designed to meet the needs of the membership – no small task given the diversity of the membership, networking events, newsletters, and the other standard benefits of a professional association. This association also goes further providing pro bono opportunities through NYC Housing Court and immigration access-to-justice programs. It also has entered into at least one international agreement with the goal of establishing standards for paralegal practice. 

Thanks in particular to the contribution of one of the members of the Board, the association also seems to have a unique sense of branding. I left the meeting with one example, a notebook/pen set bearing the NYCPA logo.

 All-in-all the group seems to be admirably living up to its Mission Statement:

New York City Paralegal Association, Inc. (NYCPA) primary objectives are education: providing members with career guidance and Continue Legal Education (CLE) seminars; network opportunities; global, national, and state proficiency standards; and Professional recognition. The NYCPA is dedicated to promoting the professional growth of paralegals and the advancement of the paralegal profession. Our vision is to develop a strong association that encourages interaction among students, entry-level and experienced paralegals to facilitate the exchange of insightful information, advice, and guidance to build successful careers.
One final note. There are some virtues of an association that cannot be easily ascertained from the websites, event lists, and other indicia of accomplishment. The members of the Board with whom I met exhibited a level of personal interest in and support of each other, as well as their profession, that is really the bedrock of any successful organization.

Paralegal Honored as Advocate for Low-Income People

Friday, November 19th, 2010

According to the Florida Times Union at, Jacksonville paralegal Virgina MaCabe is among those honored by Jacksonville Area Legal Aid as this year’s recipients of the Award for Outstanding Pro Bono Services. Congratulations to Virginia. This kind of service benefits not only the people served, but the paralegal profession.

I’d like to see a more organized approach to the utilization of paralegals as part of the resolution of access to justice issues in the United States, but until such a system is in place, paralegals like Virginia help bridge the access to justice gap while honoring their ethical obligations to the community, the legal system, and the profession.

A Louisville Legal Aid Slugger

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Believing that paralegals are a big part of the solution to the access to justice issue in the United States, I like to track and spotlight projects using the unique skill sets of paralegals to assist in providing legal services to people who would otherwise not have access. Today’s example is the Louisville Legal Aid Society as reported in the Louisville Courier-Journal:

Last week we sat in on a foreclosure clinic at Louisville’s Legal Aid Society. The free clinics are held twice a week and provide homeowners with a timeline of foreclosure proceedings and possible alternatives. Paralegal Andrea Hunt led the clinic, walking participants through terms like short sale — selling your home for less than you owe — and forbearance agreement — when your bank allows you to suspend payments temporarily. She also offered the good news that because Kentucky law requires lenders go to court in order to have your home sold, the process takes longer than in states that don’t have that requirement.

While paralegals cannot provide legal advice,* they can provide legal information in terms laypersons can understand, a skill well-demonstrated by Andrea. A tip-of-the-hat to Andrea and the legal aid society for recognizing and capitalizing on this opportunity to provide increased access to justice.

*It is my current position that specially trained paralegals should be allowed to give legal advice in the areas of the special traning in certain circumstances.

India aims to create an army of paralegal volunteers

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

As a discussion on the Paralegal Today listserv is currently discussing, the term “paralegal” can take on a variety of meanings. In many parts of the worl paralegals serve a function quite distinct from anything we consider covered by the term. I’ve previously posted on this phenomenon in countries such as Sierra Leone . Here’s an excerpt from recent story from The Telegraph in Calcutta, India:

To the downtrodden and the dispossessed in Andhra Pradesh, paralegal volunteers, sometimes referred to as barefoot lawyers, have proved to be a godsend. Now, four years after the Paralegal Volunteer Scheme was introduced in the state — it was started in Andhra Pradesh in October 2006 — the National Legal Services Authority (Nalsa), a body constituted under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, to provide free legal services to the weaker sections of society, is trying to replicate the scheme across all districts and villages in the country.

Nalsa recently announced plans to provide training to around one lakh paralegal volunteers who will help poor peasants exercise their fundamental rights and make them aware of different government schemes and their benefits.

“Our aim is to create an army of paralegal volunteers who would act as agents of legal awareness and provide legal aid to all sections of people. They are expected to act as intermediaries between the common people and the legal services institutions and help remove barriers to accessing justice,” says Nalsa member secretary U. Sarathchandran.

Click here for the rest of the story.

While I do not see paralegals here in exactly this role, I do consider the profession to be a key to solving the access to justice problem in the United States as discussed in this post.

It is interesting that paralegals in India are being used in this capacity and in a more traditional role, while being a potential outsourcing threat to paralegals in the United States.