2 New Legal Pushes Increasing the Demand for Paralegal Services Within the U.S.
In mid-year 2021 massive cultural change and technological revolution surrounds us in the midst of pandemic challenges. Regrettably, we have witnessed some industries falter and suffer during this time. There has been one industry need, however, which has not only remained constant but has actually increased in demand. That demand is for Paralegal services within the legal field. Paralegals are not only more important than ever before; they are absolutely necessary to the efficient operation and management of every law firm or office.
Societal shifts and advancements in technology seem to be driving the market in a certain direction and as such Paralegals and Legal Assistants, collectively known as paraprofessionals, have become the Nation’s best hope toward improving access to justice. By way of projection, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates that the job outlook for Paralegals and Legal Assistants will be a constant 10% growth through the year 2029 which is much faster than the average job growth in any other sector. This growth factor is being fueled by interest in a new area of opportunity within the Paralegal field, that of reformed services.
Reformed Paralegal Services
The term “Reformed Paralegal Services” refers to any Licensed and/or Certified Paralegals who enjoy expanded powers and authority under state law. Nationally, the need for reformed Paralegal and Legal Assistant services is gaining ground, particularly in the Western United States. As it stands right now, many if not most States already recognize that licensed Paralegals are well-trained and do in fact specialize in certain areas of the law. In addition, most states currently use lawyers to supervise the Paralegals they employ. Those Paralegals are not authorized to make formal court appearances or represent clients.
However, in 2019, the California State Bar started considering allowing non-lawyers, including artificial intelligence (AI) programs, to practice law. This led to the recent decision by the California State Bar to create the California Paraprofessionals Program Working Group (CPPWG) which was charged with developing recommendations for the creation of a new paraprofessional (Paralegal/Legal Assistant) licensure and certification program. Under this new California paraprofessional proposal, lawyers would not supervise new Paralegal/Legal Assistant licensees and those paraprofessionals would be able to appear in court without an attorney when representing clients. This is the latest development in the Reformed Paralegal Services timeline.
The history of Reformed Paralegal Services actually started in 2003 when the State of Arizona passed legislation called the Legal Document Preparer Program (LDPP). The LDPP certifies non-attorney legal document preparers in Arizona who provide document preparation assistance and services to individuals and entities not represented by an attorney. Those services include preparing legal documents for individuals and companies without the formality of licensed attorney oversight. Legal document preparers may provide general legal information but may not give legal advice. Many AZ Paralegals opted for this certification in order to start their own businesses and to provide them more autonomy within the legal field. Then, in 2012 Washington State adopted the Limited License Legal Technician (LLLT) regulation.
At the time, the LLLT program was the only Paralegal paraprofessional program of its kind, fully operational, within the United States. Although many states offer court facilitators, their offerings did not rise to the same level of independence as what LLLTs enjoy. Unlike Paralegals, the LLLTs operate on their own, without a supervising lawyer and can help clients on family law matters. A limitation is that the LLLT cannot represent people in court or negotiate on their own, as all communications must go through the client.
Following suit with Washington State, the State of Utah passed legislation in 2018 creating the Licensed Paralegal Practitioner (LPP) position. The LPP enjoys limited authority to practice law in the areas dealing with family law and debt collection. Utah LPPs may represent the interest of clients not represented by lawyers through establishing contractual relationships, conducting interviews, informing, counseling and giving advice on how to complete forms and legal documents and who can advise on mediated negotiations and other practices.
The Legal Service Ownership Model
In addition to the push to reform and expand the scope of powers and responsibilities of Paralegals there are also efforts underway to allow non-lawyers to own law firms. This initiative is called Legal-Service Ownership. This ancillary or spin off interest would allow Paralegals and other non-lawyers the ability to become partners/owners of law firms and to have active voices in an industry completely dominated by licensed attorneys. In 2020, the Arizona Supreme Court delivered a decision which eliminated the ban on non-lawyers having economic interests in law firms and the prohibition on sharing legal fees among non-lawyers and lawyers.
While Arizona is the first state to completely eliminate the ban on non-lawyers having an economic interest in law firms, it is not the first state to loosen the reins on non-lawyer law firm ownership. The State of Utah, for example, has proposed similar legislation which is picking up momentum within their House of Representatives with the intent to achieve similar results to the Arizona Supreme Court’s Order. Participating companies interested in non-lawyer law firm ownership say that it is inevitable that more states will be following similar paths once the way is clear.
This new Legal-Service Ownership model is being evaluated in the State of Utah by following the creation of hybrid lawyer/non-lawyer owned law firms or legal services companies such as: Bumble Bee Bankruptcy Law which provides consumer and corporate bankruptcy services; Rocket Lawyer which provides legal services to supplement software legal document completion; Law Geex which provides Artificial Intelligence (AI) enabled contract drafting, negotiation, and management services; Hello Divorce which provides services to help dissolve marriages through a tech platform with attorney oversight; and Lawpal which provides software-facilitated legal document assistance in housing and family law.
The common nexus with these new business models is that they are owned by +/- 50% of non-lawyers and a significant percentage of those non-lawyers are Paralegal paraprofessionals. Private non-lawyer ownership in law firms could prove instrumental in making legal services more affordable and accessible to the masses, among other benefits. Advocates in Utah and California welcome ownership changes because these changes can bring innovation, and innovation can result in lower prices for the client.
A major reason for the Reformed Paralegal Services and Legal-Service Ownership push is to address the “access to justice” problem where people only receive the justice they can monetarily afford. The collective States and the Federal Government have had numerous opportunities to increase the funding for legal services through the creation of pro bono clinics and law libraries to assist pro se clients, as well as the lowering of the cost of legal education to name just a few of many potential initiatives. Though there have been some good intentions, many people such as indigent and other vulnerable populations, simply cannot afford the proverbial “keys to the courthouse.”
Criticisms for Changing Systems of Law
Criticism does exist for both Reformed Paralegal Services and Legal-Service Ownership paradigms. Opponents, for example, point out that a Washington State LLLT can charge up to $150 per hour for services, the same fee a licensed attorney charges, and that the corporatization of the practice of law through private non-lawyer ownership of law firms and the loosening or modifying of law firm ownership regulations will simply erode justice by elevating access to legal professionals to even greater heights than currently exist by sacrificing justice for profits, a proven strategy pursued by big business.
Regardless of the criticism generated though, one thing is for sure: The Paralegal/Legal Assistant field is expanding quickly into new areas of regulation and control. These new types of private and government needs have placed the individual Paralegal at the center of the movement. The result is that Paralegal/ Legal Assistants, perhaps once considered luxury positions within a law firm, are now necessary components which are firmly rooted to the legal profession. Their future is bright indeed. As a result of these new initiatives, law firms across the country may look very different in the future, but Paralegal Services will always be represented and very much needed.
Written by Professor Jeffrey Hauck
Professor Jeffrey Hauck currently resides in Texas with his wife and family. He is serving in the U.S. Army as a Space Operations Officer for an Innovation Command providing guidance and assessments for Theater and Homeland Defense missions. His military service includes more than twenty years of experience both as a U.S. Army Non-Commissioned and Commissioned Officer employed as an Airborne Infantry Pathfinder; Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear (CBRN) basic branch Officer; and now a Space Operations Officer (FA-40). His law enforcement career includes fifteen years of service as a municipal police officer hired, and twice promoted, through the Civil Service Commission.
Professor Hauck retired from law enforcement at the rank of Sergeant as a platoon shift supervisor and administrator. He possesses many years of training, lecturing, & business management experience as well as more than fifteen years of experience as a Licensed Private Detective (LPD). During the years of 2006 – 2014 he was Licensed and Bonded as a Private Detective empowered to conduct private investigations throughout the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the State of Alabama.
Professor Hauck is currently licensed as a Private Investigator in the State of Texas. He earned a Juris Doctor (JD) Degree and was a fellow at the Law & Government Institute earning specializations in both Administrative and Constitutional Law at Widener University School of Law. He also holds a Master of Science (MSc) degree in Criminal Justice, a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in Criminal Justice, and a Career Diploma as a Certified Legal Assistant/Paralegal. Currently, he is a Ph.D candidate.
As a law enforcement officer Professor Hauck held certification to teach at the Police Academy Level (PA Act 120) as a Special & General law enforcement Educator/Trainer. He is credentialed as a Certified Law Enforcement Trainer (CLET), Certified Protection Officer (CPO), Certified International Investigator (CII), and Certified Instructor in the areas of academics, skills, and firearms for Pennsylvania’s Act 235, The Lethal Weapons Training Act. He has been teaching as an Adjunct Professor of Criminal Justice and Paralegal Studies in both brick and mortar and distance institutions since 2002. He is a proud member of the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), the Texas Association of Licensed Investigators (TALI), and other professional organizations.