Posts Tagged ‘Great Britain’

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.

 

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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Transatlantic Competency Standards for Paralegals

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Just yesterday I posted on my meeting with the NYCPA Executive Board at which I learned, inter alia of that organization’s joint project to develop internations competency standards for paralegals. The past couple of weeks have been quite hectic, so I have not had the time to check paralegal related press releases. It was only this morning that I found many of you may have already heard of the project through a 11/22 release on PR Newswire entitled “Project to Create Transatlantic Competency Standards for Paralegals.”

The story states:

LONDON, Nov. 22, 2010 /PRNewswire/ — Many UK law firms have an office in the United States of America, and vice-versa. A significant number of UK and US law firms have merged in a trend that shows no sign of abating.

Typically such transatlantic firms seek to apply uniform expectations and standards to all their fee-earners across the firm. To assist firms achieve this goal, the UK’s Institute of Paralegals (IOP) is proud to be partnering with the New York City Paralegal Association (NYCPA) to produce paralegal competency standards relevant to both UK and US paralegals.

The standards, which will be available at no charge, will assist firms to standardize paralegal recruitment, appraisal, development and competency benchmarks.

World’s First International Paralegal Standards Project

This project is the first by paralegal representative bodies to create international standards. It highlights the growing sophistication of the paralegal profession in both the UK and US.

About the Project

The IOP and NYCPA have formed a joint working party to create competency standards for paralegals working in transatlantic law firms. The Standards will reflect the usual paralegal career structure, being set at introductory, intermediate and advanced levels.

Check the story for more details and contact information.

Penny the Paralegal with a Clever PC

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

As I’ve often noted issues facing the attorney and paralegal professions in other countries are both different and the same as ours. Take Great Britain for example. The system for becoming and being a lawyer in Great Britain is quite different than ours, and lawyers themselves are divided between barristers and solicitors. However, there as in most other jurisdictions there is a tension between the goals of providing affordable legal services to the public and protecting the public from incompetent service providers. There, though, the public can choose their representation to a larger degree than here where only the licensed attorney can practice law. As noted in a post today on guardian.co.uk, “Anyone can launch themselves as a legal adviser, but solicitors have a unique selling point, they are qualified.”

There are a lot of “legal advisers” in England. As the author of the post, Neil Rose, points out, “After a 50% growth each decade over the past 50 years, there are now nearly 150,000 people on the roll of solicitors (plus another 45,000 in the various other legal professions), making England and Wales one of the most densely “lawyered” countries in the world. In another 50 years, on current trends, there will be a million solicitors.”

But the question he raises is, “For what do we need qualified lawyers? Why not just go to Penny the Paralegal with a clever PC (who may be a law student who couldn’t find a training contract)?”

Here, of course, this question could not arise since Penny the Paralegal is prevented from performing most lawyer-like activities by UPL statutes. This is true only to a very limited extent in England where, “By law, there are six areas of work – known as reserved legal activities – for which you need a legal qualification: preparing litigation; representing someone in court; transferring land; certain limited aspects of probate; notarial activities; and the administration of oaths. That’s it.”

Here’s the rub – a rub we saw in Canada and, to a degree, here -especially in Wisconsin: “The argument that more legal activities, such as will-writing and employment advice, should be reserved may seem like a job creation exercise by the legal profession, …” In other words, who are UPL laws meant to protect – the public or the legal profession.