William B. Blanchard publishes review of the emerging trend of para-professional legal assistants
Real estate lawyer William Blanchard reviews the emerging trend of paraprofessionals to fill gaps in the provision of legal services
By: William B. Blanchard
There is an evolving group of legal assistants who ascend the ranks to act almost like attorneys, similar to Nurse Practitioners who in many cases diagnose and treat health conditions. In civil law cases, there are proposals pending (or already implemented in certain States, as explained below) to address the day-to-day legal need of those unable or unwilling to hire a full-fledged Attorney. This includes the commonplace legal needs of low to moderate-income people by authorizing limited practice by licensed non-lawyers, now known as "paraprofessionals."
Given the high percentage of self-represented parties in courtrooms around the country, some advocates believe regulated legal paraprofessionals (charging lower fees) can help narrow the access-to-justice gap. That may one day be the case, but the paraprofessional model and its efficacy in addressing this disparity remain unproven, and ethical rules prevent such a system at least at present.
Washington State pioneered the "limited license" model. In 2013, after years of study, the Washington State Supreme Court adopted the concept of the "Limited License Legal Technician" (LLLT) to perform specific legal services in the area of domestic relations. LLLTs are subject to stringent requirements, which include obtaining an Associate's degree or higher and completing additional specified coursework; performing 3,000 hours of Paralegal work; passing three law and ethics exams, as well as a character and fitness review. Further, they must also complete a licensing program, satisfy financial responsibility requirements, as well as continuing legal education, and meet malpractice insurance requirements. LLLTs are subject to rules of professional conduct and a disciplinary process similar to those that apply to attorneys. The Board that oversees the LLLT program is now considering expanding the subject matter areas in which paraprofessionals may practice to include consumer debt law.
Several other U.S. States are now following this example. The scope of permissible work for "limited license" paraprofessionals differs under these various models that have been proposed. It generally includes assistance to clients in understanding legal proceedings and completing court forms and other form documents, but does not include appearing for a client in court or at depositions, or taking on complex legal matters. For example, LLLTs in Washington currently may not represent a client in mediated negotiations, but they may do so in Utah.
One of the main reasons for this development is the realization that there is massive need for some form of representation in civil law areas for vast numbers of the population that are attempting self-representation due to limited access to attorneys (mostly due to financial restraints). This is in spite of legal aid societies as well as significant pro bono attorney services. A large number of individuals continue to represent themselves in these areas and could benefit from paraprofessionals.
This access-to-justice disparity has prompted State Bars and court systems to promote other forms of nonlawyer assistance to pro se parties, including courthouse navigators and facilitators (examples are Arizona, New York, California, and Washington), and legal document preparers (Arizona, California, and Nevada). Many other States are looking into other forms of permissible assistance ("judicially-
To be continued. - The complete articles will be published on the blog of Mr. Blanchard at https://williamblanchardblog.blogspot.com/
*** William Blanchard is a real estate attorney with offices in St. Charles and Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois. Bill specializes in representing real estate clients for purchases and sales as well as home owner real estate tax assessment appeals. Mr. Blanchard gained distinction as a real estate assessment attorney by representing 23 Will County senior citizen home owners before the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board and winning every case; this in addition to several successful appeals before various County Boards of Appeal.
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William B. Blanchard, Esq.
St. Charles, Illinois