In some states, there are opportunities for paralegals to advance their careers while bridging the gap in access to justice. There are currently four states that have instituted programs that grant individuals a limited license that allows non-lawyers to offer viable alternatives to hiring an attorney for simple legal needs when the client cannot afford an attorney while maintaining those required by each state professional standards are maintained. The states that currently issue some type of limited license are Arizona, Minnesota, Oregon and Utah. Although neither California nor Washington actively licenses non-attorneys, both have been involved in the development of limited licensing programs. In this blog we will focus on these six states.
Let’s first look at the state of Washington. In June 2012, Washington developed a program to license non-attorneys in specific areas of law where the state’s population most urgently needed legal services. Providers Washington non-attorney legal technicians are considered Limited Licensed Legal Technicians (“LLLTs”). LLLTs are licensed by the Washington Supreme Court and have the authority to exercise their limited license in the area of family law (including divorce, child custody and other family law matters) within the state, but on a limited basis . LLLTs are authorized to consult and advise clients, complete and file court documents, and assist prosecutors in some court hearings and settlement conferences. Washington was the first state to license non-attorney law providers.&nb sp;
Unfortunately, on June 4, 2020, a majority of the Washington Supreme Court voted to discontinue the LLLT program due to the cost of maintaining the program and the small number of candidates interested in their license and the ability to complete the license requirements by July 31, 2022, and permitted current LLLTs in good standing to retain their license and continue to provide services as described in the Court Rules of the Washington State: Admission and Practice Rules, Rule 28. There are currently sixteen active LLLTs in Washington State.
Up until 2015, Washington state was the only state to begin licensing non-attorneys, when Utah formed its task force to determine if that license (or something similar) would work for them. The Utah Supreme Court Task Force to Examine Limited Legal Licenses was established to identify areas of law where gaps in access to justice existed. The task force identified family law, debt collection and evictions as the areas of greatest need. A steering committee met in February 2016 to establish educational, licensing and administrative requirements, as well as to propose policies on conduct and professional discipline. Utah’s non-attorney legal service provider is known as a Licensed Paralegal (“LLP”). LLPs are governed by the Rules Governing the Utah State Bar, specifically Rules 14-703 and 14-802(c), which also set out the education and training requirements necessary to become an LLP. The State Bar began licensing LLPs in late 2019. There are currently 23 active LLPs licensed in the State of Utah to provide limited legal services to clients.
In April 2016, the Board of Governors created the Oregon State Bar Association Futures Task Force (“OSBFTF”) to consider how the bar association could better serve the public and support the professional development of attorneys given the evolution of legal services being received and provided. In 2017, the OSBFTF recommended a limited bar license as a tool to fill the gap in access to justice for low- and middle-income citizens of the state. In 2019, the Board of Governors followed the recommendation and established the Paraprofessional Licensing Implementation Committee. The committee is responsible for developing a program to license paralegals to provide a limited range of legal services in the areas of family law and tenancy law. On July 19, 2022, the Oregon Supreme Court approved the limited license allowing paralegals to practice legal services in the areas of family law and landlord-tenant law. The court approved the admissions regulations along with the code of conduct and the statutory minimum continuing education requirements, which are scheduled to come into force on July 1, 2023. For more information, visit the DA’s website at https://alawyerr.com/.
A task force for the provision of legal services has been established in Arizona. In January 2021, the Arizona Supreme Court amended the Arizona Code of Judicial Administration (“ACJA”) to add §7-210, which outlines the requirements and duties to become a Limited Licensed Legal Practitioner, now classified as a Paraprofessional Legal ( “LP”). ACJA §7-210 lists the requirements for obtaining a license, the roles and responsibilities of an LP, and the continuing education requirements to obtain and maintain the license. There are currently four areas of law in which an LP may practice: family law, civil law with limited jurisdiction, criminal law and administrative law. ACJA §7-210 requires each applicant to pass the foundation exam and an exam in the specific area of law in which they wish to be licensed.
On September 29, 2020, the Minnesota Supreme Court amended the court’s rules of procedure to authorize a pilot, effective March 1, 2021, until March 31, 2023, unless extended. In November 2020, the Minnesota Legal Paraprofessionals Pilot Project Standing Committee was established to oversee the statewide pilot that will allow licensed Minnesota Legal Paraprofessionals to represent and advise clients on specific housing and family law matters. The LP must also be supervised by a Minnesota attorney.
The Standing Committee will assess the success of the pilot project and whether the project meets the objective of improving access to justice in civil justice services. LPs are licensed to represent and advise clients in the areas of family and landlord-tenant law and may appear in Minnesota courts if licensed and acknowledging the requirements of Rule 12 Supervised Practice and understanding that participation in a Pilot project is underway and is expected to end in March 2023. Some of the requirements include records and traceability information requested by the Standing Committee for use in the final evaluation of the pilot project. In June 2022.
The Standing Committee has until September 14, 2022 to submit to the Supreme Court the training or experience requirements developed and required for the LP before services are provided under the pilot program.
The State of California has also established a task force tasked with developing recommendations and rules regarding a limited license for licensed paraprofessionals. Like other states that have developed licensing programs for non-attorneys, California began its licensing journey by examining the gap in access to justice within the state. The California proposal for restricted paraprofessional service has met significant opposition from attorneys, the California Supreme Court and the California Legislature. He’s back at the drawing board for the California Task Force.
With more and more people facing tough economic times, it wouldn’t be a surprise if most states instituted the same or similar licensing processes for limited-license paraprofessionals.