Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Changes to the Paralegal Profession

By Teresa A. Clark, ACP
The changes to our profession over the past 20+ years have been astounding! Not only because of technological advances, but in general things are definitely different. I am sure that most, if not all you have been impacted by changes to the number of staff at your firms, mostly by lowering the attorney to administrative assistant ratio. Many paralegals that I have talked to, have been impacted by this, which has often resulted in increased administrative duties. 

There is a trend of a new type of paralegal professional that has made the news recently. Different states use different titles, but the first state to recognize this new profession was Washington. In June, 2015 the state of Washington had 7 Limited License Legal Technicians (LLLT) pass their exam. The seven examinees, as of June still had to show that they had insurance and 3,000 hours of supervised experience before becoming fully licensed, but they completed the first hurdle in becoming the nation's first limited license legal technicians. In December, The Utah Supreme Court approved Licensed Paralegal Practitioners (LPP) to help clients navigate the legal system. While I am not certain how many states currently have "licensed paralegals," it is my understanding through my own research that they are being considered in Colorado, California, Oregon, Georgia, Illinois and New York. 

In Utah, they will be designated as LPP's and could help clients fill out legal forms, prepare settlements and represent them in mediated negotiations, but will not be permitted to appear in court. Utah Supreme Court Justice Deno Himonas, who chaired the task force on limited legal licensing, told the council that a licensed paralegal practitioner could help people who can't afford a lawyer or who don't want to pay for one. The task force also said that LPPs should have a law degree; or an associate degree with a paralegal certificate, paralegal certification, paralegal experience and additional coursework in their practice area. For additional information on Washington's program, you can follow this link http://www.wsba.org/Licensing-and-Lawyer-Conduct/Limited-Licenses/Legal-Technicians/Legal-Technician-FAQs. 

Whether this profession, or something like it comes to Virginia remains to be seen. You may find it interesting to know that Virginia has an historic mark in our profession, specifically at a Congressional hearing before the Subcommittee on Representation of Citizen Interest, where Wilbur Allen, Managing partner of Allen, Allen, Allen, and Allen testified along with Sally Fairbanks, the firms' administrative manager on the use of Paralegal Assistants on July 23, 1974. The 266 page transcript can be found here https://archive.org/details/paralegalassista00unit. Mr. Wilbur's testimony is often quoted from page 83, where he testified saying "If you're really going to get the most out of a secretary, then you've got to her out from the behind the typewriter and shorthand pad and put her brain to work." Ms. Fairbanks testimony starts on page 82, where she outlines the duties of paralegals in their office and makes suggestions for training and the use of Paralegals.

Of the many positives the birth of our profession and the evolution of our profession brings to the population; I find it most interesting that in both instances, a large portion of the discussion focuses on how the use of paralegals/legal technicians would improve the quality of legal services while substantially reducing the cost to the consumer. Despite the need for these services, many State level Bar Associations do not support the use of Legal Technicians, mostly because they are concerned about the unauthorized practice of law.   

Whether you are for or against this movement, it is here and if successful in Washington and other States, I am sure it will eventually find its way to Virginia. 

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