As reported this week by Law Sites, the ABA Journal, and the Professional Responsibility Blog, Utah will license paralegals to practice law in limited areas. On November 1, rules will go into effect that are expected to result in the licensing of paralegal practitioners sometime in 2019.
Utah’s rules will authorize paralegal practitioners to provide limited representation in three practice areas:
- temporary separation, divorce, parentage, cohabitant abuse, civil stalking, custody and support, and name change;
- forcible entry and detainer; and
- debt collection matters in which the dollar amount in issue does not exceed the statutory limit for small claims cases.
The rules authorize paralegal practitioners to provide limited representation in these areas without working under the supervision of a licensed attorney, but do not authorize court room appearances. The first classes begin this fall, with the initial licensing exam expected to take place next spring.
I support paralegal licensing. I view it as but one arrow in the profession’s quiver as it battles to increase access to legal services.
In 2015, I chaired the Legal Education Committee of the Vermont Joint Commission on the Future of Legal Services. My committee recommended licensing paralegals to provide limited legal services. The recommendation was based, in part, on the staggering number of self-represented litigants in Vermont’s civil docket. The report of the Joint Commission is here. The recommendations from the Legal Education Committee begin on page 11.
Last December, I posted this blog: Paralegal licenses: incremental improvement to access isn’t perfect, but it isn’t bad. I openly questioned whether my committee had recommended a paralegal licensing program that created unnecessary barriers to entry. My thoughts flowed from Mary Juetten’s post in the ABA Journal entitled The limited license legal technician is the way of the future of law.
I believe that, right now, there are many Vermont paralegals who could provide competent legal services in the exact areas in which Utah will soon authorize paralegals to practice. Or, as I wrote last December:
- “Let’s be honest: right now, there are high-quality Vermont paralegals who, without any additional training, could walk into a courthouse and provide much needed access to the scores of family law litigants without any. Seriously. If you were to get divorced tomorrow, who would you choose? A paralegal who has worked for years in a family law practice, or, me? I’ve been licensed for 23 years and wouldn’t know the first thing to do for you.”
If some training is necessary, fine. Let’s design the program, administer it, and allow paralegals to provide legal services for people who are going without.
Will the program solve the access crisis? No. But it’d be better than nothing.
As I wrote in December:
- “Some of you might be rolling your eyes and asking ‘what good would that do in the bigger picture?’ You’re right, it’s not perfect. There will still be too many people who can’t afford legal services. But, we have to stop looking for the magic bullet that solves the entire problem at once. The ‘big picture’ gets smaller by providing access to 1 person at a time. One of my priest’s favorite sermons centers on Loren Eisley’s The Starfish Story. Here’s the story:
One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed
a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.
Approaching the boy, he asked, ‘What are you doing?’
The youth replied, ‘Throwing starfish back into the ocean.
The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.’
‘Son, the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish?
You can’t make a difference!’
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish,
and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said
“I made a difference for that one.’
Soon I hope we stop letting the desire to help everyone keep us from helping anyone.