A legal paraprofessional is to a lawyer as a nurse practitioner is to a doctor: a legal paraprofessional is a licensed and regulated professional who can provide legal advice and representation within the authorized practice area in which they are licensed, with a designated scope of practice for each practice area. They are different from paralegals because they will be licensed to practice without attorney supervision.
A paraprofessional will be able to provide legal advice and, in some instances, represent parties in court, within the practice area in which they are licensed. They will not be able to represent parties in jury trials. Examples of what they could help consumers do:
The full list, developed based on areas of greatest need, includes:
Many Californians cannot afford a lawyer when they need one, so people at all income levels go without legal help even when they have a legal problem. It’s called the justice gap:
Licensing legal paraprofessionals squarely addresses the cost component of the justice gap. These practitioners would serve the significant unmet civil legal needs of Californians who do not qualify for free civil legal aid.
Increasing funding to legal aid, increasing the hours attorneys volunteer their services (pro bono), and making it easier to pass the bar exam have all been suggested as ways to close the justice gap. Here’s why those ideas won’t reach scale:
To be licensed, a paraprofessional will have to complete stringent educational, practical training, and testing requirements, and receive a favorable moral character determination.
Paraprofessionals will be required to have a $100,000 bond, contribute to a client security fund, and complete 36 hours of continuing legal education, including 28 hours in their practice area, every three years. They will also be required to report about the fees they charge to clients.
Besides the provisions already mentioned, the proposal includes other protection measures:
The proposal also details a robust discipline system, including:
The proposal details plans for public outreach and education, including direct outreach to vulnerable communities. A vigorous public education campaign will include information about how to verify that someone is licensed, the scope of their license, limits on practice, and how to file a complaint. The education campaign will explain the difference between a licensed paraprofessional, legal document assistant, unlawful detainer assistant, and immigration consultant. Just like consumers understand the difference between a nurse practitioner and a doctor, they will understand the difference between a paraprofessional and a lawyer.
The State Bar is currently gathering public comment on the proposal. You can read the full report, and you can submit your comments here. Comments are due by January 12, 2022.
After the comment period and any revisions to the program design that result from that process, the State Bar’s Board of Trustees will consider the final proposal in early 2022. Any proposal approved by the Board would then go to the California Supreme Court and the state Legislature for their review and approval.