Back in April I used the state of affairs regarding UPL in Wisconsin to launch a discussion of the possibility of licensing and regulating paralegals as a means of addressing the access to justice problem in the United States. As discussed in previous posts UPL laws and regulations of legal professionals exist amid tension between the need to provide the public with access to justice and the need to protect the public from snake-oil salesmen posing as legal professionals. I noted that what I read on the bar website does not deal at all with the access to justice issue. I do not favor unregulated snake-oils salesman practicing law – as attorneys or as paralegals. However, it does seem clear we must do more to allow if not provide access to legal services than we do now. A well educated, well trained, well regulated paralegal profession may just be the answer.
Today a paralegal from Wisconsin posted on the Paralegal Today Forum stating,
I’m in Wisconsin, a state which doesn’t license (or register, or certify) its paralegals. Anyone can call themselves a paralegal here, regardless of whether they’ve worked as one, or studied to be one (I’m getting a post-college certificate). In recent years, paralegals here have asked the state for permission to be licensed. The state courts declined the request. I’ve noticed lots of UPL articles and legislative proposals on our state bar website. I agree that UPL needs to be prevented, of course, but anyone who attends paralegal school knows how to avoid UPL. My questions to the list-serv are these:
1) Do you live in a state that doesn’t regulate paralegals?
2) How do you deal with this in your work as a paralegal?
This led to several interesting responses including these:
Ditto for Louisiana. We do have a state certifying exam administered by NALA, but a lot of paralegals do not avail themselves of this certification, because (1) it doesn’t automatically increase their salary, (2) you have to study to take the exam and pass, and then have to pass the CLA exam within 2 years to get the certification, (3) why bother when you can call yourself a paralegal even if you mostly do secretarial work.
Until paralegals across the nation realize that education and continuing education is what puts them above the run of the mill employee, anyone and everyone is going to apply for a paralegal job and give the rest of us a lot of disrespect when they can’t do the job.
AND before we get into that age-old debate about education vs. experience, ALL JOBS, including paralegal jobs include OTJ training and always will. Education only enhances skills.
I often see a lot of misunderstanding, misperception, and misinformation about ‘regulation’ of paralegals. There is only one state that has any sort of mandatory regulation of paralegals and that is California. Interestingly enough, the California regulatory scheme doesn’t have any kind of agency, board, or other such entity to administer or oversee the regulatory scheme. There is not one single state that requires paralegals to be licensed, certified, or ‘registered’ in order to function as a paralegal.
NFPA has a section of their website devoted to the regulation issue: http://www.paralegals.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=795 Scroll down the page and check out their comprehensive chart that details the efforts towards regulation for each state. Some states offer a voluntary certification program through the state Bar, e.g. TX, OH, and NC. Florida offers a voluntary registration program. The WI Supreme Court recently rejected a proposal for mandatory regulation and suggested the proponents look at the Florida FRP scheme as a possible alternative.
Personally, I believe that the UPL issue and regulation of paralegals are two separate and distinct issues. Most every state has UPL laws, statutes or Bar rules prohibiting UPL by anyone. Florida has an aggressive Bar and UPL Committee that investigates and prosecutes UPL claims. The Florida Bar Rules specifically state that non-lawyers offering services directly to the public cannot use the title of ‘paralegal’. Mandatory regulation of paralegals (who by definition work under the supervision of a licensed attorney) will not prevent ‘John Doe’ from setting up his own shop and offering his services directly to the public.
Whether one agrees with mandatory regulation or not, it would be helpful if we all spoke knowledgeably on this issue. I think the dissemination of inaccurate information clouds the issue and distorts the message.
Elona M. Jouben, FRP
NWFPA Parliamentarian/Membership-Student Liaison Chair
Wilson, Harrell, Farrington, Ford
Pensacola, FL 32502
Several months ago I posted a Call for Papers for an anthology on paralegal professionalism. One article submitted is a very good statement of the current status of regulation in the United States and two articles argue in favor of regulation. No one submitted an article opposing regulation – which means I’ll probably have to do that one myself!
I do agree with the last paragraph of Elona’s response above: Whether one agrees with mandatory regulation or not, it would be helpful if we all spoke knowledgeably on this issue. I think the dissemination of inaccurate information clouds the issue and distorts the message.
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