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There is an evolving group of Paralegals that 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." This is easy to understand. Many procedures or applications are difficult to understand for "normal" people who are not exposed to them on a daily basis. For example, even forms provided by Courts to make certain filings simpler and possibly enable people to file the forms or applications themselves without the assistance of an Attorney are quite difficult to understand that at least some explanation is still required. This concept has been gradually gaining acceptance. Unlike Paralegals, such paraprofessionals provide services without the direct supervision of an attorney. At this point, two state supreme courts have embraced the "licensed legal technician" concept, and other jurisdictions are closely monitoring its viability.
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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.
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Several other U.S. States are now following this example. 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.
About K Todd Wallace
Kenneth Todd Wallace is an attorney and founding partner of the law firm Wallace Meyaski LLC. He has nearly 20 years of experience in the legal and business professions with established excellence in trial advocacy, negotiation, strategic and initiative planning, employment law compliance, government relations, mergers and acquisitions, and team building.
Blog at: https://ktoddwallaceblog.blogspot.com/
Wallace Meyaski Law Firm
K Todd Wallace, Esq.
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