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.