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Future of Paraprofessionals

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If you are a paraprofessional or are thinking of becoming a paraprofessional, you may be wondering about the future of paraprofessionals. Paraprofessionals can look forward to all kinds of conversations, potential changes, and active changes. For attorneys building their team, it is equally important to be aware of future changes for paraprofessionals.

If you are a paraprofessional looking to specialize in mass tort law, The Mass Tort Institute (MTI) should be your starting point. Through MTI’s resources, classes, and free guides you can grow in all aspects of your career. To get started and learn more about us simply check out our website.

Below you will find everything you need to know about the future of paraprofessionals.

In February of this year, the state of Arizona passed rule 5.4 allowing for non-attorneys to have an economic interest in legal firms and allow for nonlawyer fee sharing. In addition to these changes, the state has allowed for the creation of legal paraprofessionals, which will be known as LPs, and they will be able to practice as affiliate members of the state bar and be subject to the same ethical and rules considerations as attorneys. You can read the Arizona Supreme Court’s complete 91-page order by visiting www.azcourts.gov.

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While other states such as California, Washington, and Utah allow for non-attorneys to complete a limited set of legal tasks or share in fees, Arizona has taken it a step further and created a new class of licensed legal professionals and given them the ability to own and operate their businesses. This combination of rule changes is unique in America and makes Arizona the first in the nation to allow such practices. An overwhelming 80% of Arizonans supported the proposal that was adopted as legal paraprofessionals.

According to the Arizona Supreme Court, an LP is a professional with specific education and experience who is licensed to provide legal services in limited practice areas. This professional is often compared to a nurse practitioner in the medical field. Licensed LPs will be able to provide service to the public such as:

  • Drafting, signing, and filing legal documents
  • Providing advice, opinions, or recommendations about possible legal rights, remedies, defenses, options, or strategies.
  • Appearing before a court or tribunal
  • Negotiating on behalf of a client in the areas of practice that are authorized by the law if the LP has received a license and endorsement for that area of law.

How to Become an LP in Arizona?

There are two paths to apply for an LP license: Education-based and experience-based.

The education requirements are:

  • An associate-level degree in paralegal studies or associate degree plus paralegal certificate and supervised experience
  • Four-year bachelor’s degree in Law
  • Master of Legal Studies
  • Juris Doctor from ABA-approved school. You cannot be a disbarred or suspended lawyer!
  • A foreign-trained lawyer with a Master of Law degree also known as an LLM from an ABA-approved school.

There is certain coursework requirements including completion of courses in evidence, legal research and writing, professional responsibility, and 120 hours of experiential learning including advocacy.

The experience pathway requires:

  • 7 years of full-time substantive law-related experience within 10 years preceding the application, including two years of experience in the practice area in which the applicant seeks licensure.
  • Proof of experience must be certified by the supervising attorney.

Applicants must apply for a license, take the state exam, and pay fees.

Are There Currently Any LP Certification Programs and What Does the Future of Paraprofessional in Arizona Look Like?

Currently, there are no certification programs that have been brought to the Arizona Judicial Council for review. It is expected that educational institutions will develop programs that will be approved by the Arizona Judicial Council and allow candidates to qualify for LP licensure.

The Arizona state bar will also be charged with licensing a new class of entity, the Alternative Business Structure or ABS. An ABS is an organization providing legal services that are owned, operated, and/or managed by non-attorneys. ABS’s will have to go through the bar to be certified, but they serve as a way for non-law-firm organizations to start offering legal services as part of their business model. Think of the big 4 accounting firms providing limited legal service to clients.

To understand the potential socio-legal significance of the legal paraprofessional, it is important to understand the role of the legal professional in our society. The principal actors in the profession are, of course, lawyers who practice law.

One area of the practice of law is lawyering, a term that is often used to mean the invoking of the legal process to resolve competing claims. How lawyering services are conveyed to the consumer is called the “legal services delivery mechanism”.  The mechanism has always been maintained by the legal profession through its control over lawyers and the practice of law.

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This is why the Arizona decision was considered so groundbreaking. Lawyers have held a professional monopoly for decades, with some justification, but monopolies lead to stagnation, decay, and inefficiency. It’s given us a legal system where the vast majority of the public can’t afford a lawyer when they need one. This new rule is a step in the right direction towards correcting that deficiency in access to justice.

How the Arizona Decision is Changing the Future of Paraprofessionals

If we examine the legal system as a social system with a functional division of labor and a professional caste system, paraprofessionals are at the bottom. The industry’s continuing need for low-level staff to serve as a buffer between staff and large numbers of clients means high turnover, inefficient workers, lost time and money, and general job dissatisfaction. But paraprofessionals deserve better.

Thinking of paraprofessionals as trained legal service providers can expand a firm’s reach AND provide a career ladder for workers who may not have a college education. Or for others who may be looking for ways to support a family without taking on a ton of debt.

There may be pushback from lawyers around the business case for paraprofessionals within law firms, but the Arizona model will prove that legal paraprofessionals can help bridge the justice gap by proving affordable legal services to their communities. much like nurse practitioners treat patients with less complex illnesses or injuries, making healthcare more accessible. Additionally, with their own set of clients, paraprofessionals can be a source of referrals for more complex matters to licensed attorneys.

Looking at The History for Paraprofessionals

To get a better sense of the direction of the future of paraprofessionals, it will be helpful to take a look at things from the very beginning.

In 1971 the general college of the University of Minnesota introduced a program for training legal paraprofessionals which at that time were legal secretaries, legal assistants, and legal administrators.

Structured with the guidance of lawyers and educators, the program offered a wide array of business, legal, and liberal arts courses. There was also an internship, designed to prepare the paraprofessional for a responsible career in law.

The curriculum was multilevel, offering a one-year sequence for legal secretaries, a two-year associate of arts degree for legal assistants, and a four-year baccalaureate degree program for legal administrators. The program was open-ended so that a student may progress to the level appropriate to his individual interests and abilities. At each level, the education completed would have definite market value.

The University’s department of continuing legal education also created a pilot program that was a thirty-two-hour course of study. This was offered in Minneapolis to a small group of people – many of whom were employed in law offices. The interest in the program was strong. Three hundred and fifty applications were received for the eighty available positions. The success of this pilot program indicated strong interest in paraprofessional training, provided a good start for a curriculum, and gave the University an added incentive for the introduction of a formal collegiate program. 

To develop the curriculum, the teachers consulted with the American Bar Association’s Special Committee on Legal Assistants, their own local advisory group, and faculty members at the general college.

Their curriculum model included four distinct components: general education, related business courses, specific technical legal courses, and internship experience. General education consists of courses in the natural sciences, social sciences, behavioral sciences, communications, and humanities. The university faculty and representatives of the legal profession agreed that general education would be important to paraprofessionals.

Minnesota for Paraprofessionals Today

Fast forward to today, and Minnesota is joining the gradually growing roster of states allowing nonlawyers to handle some legal tasks. All this in hopes of providing greater access to justice.

The Minnesota Supreme Court issued an order in October of 2020 approving a pilot project that will permit “legal paraprofessionals” to provide legal services. These legal services are available in two practice areas with a high percentage of self-represented litigants: landlord-tenant disputes and family law.

The paraprofessionals will be able to provide advice and make court appearances on behalf of tenants in housing disputes in certain jurisdictions. They will also be able to appear in court in some family law matters and handle family law mediations that are “limited to less complex matters.”

Additionally, the legal paraprofessionals are required to enter into an agreement with a licensed Minnesota lawyer who agrees to serve as the paraprofessional’s supervisory attorney.

MTI and the Future of Paraprofessionals

Supporting a paraprofessional in career development can mean better-serviced clients and lessen the demand on attorneys to perform certain aspects of case management.

However, at MTI, we know training does come at a cost. The two biggest resources used for job training are time and money. Another reason law firms often neglect to train employees is because of past training experiences. Sometimes the training was done poorly, or the topics just didn’t help. That could happen for several reasons. Failed training comes at a high cost, and businesses often don’t want to take that risk. However, not training your employees also comes at a cost.

MTI is striving to provide legal paraprofessionals with a pathway to growth and careers through effective training and certification. We provide extensive paraprofessional training within mass tort law. Whether a paraprofessional is looking into more specialized knowledge in the mass tort space or looking to certify as a paralegal, we can help. Our curriculum comes from expert mass tort lawyers and we try and update things just as much as the mass tort space evolves.

Having a trained workforce means your workers are learning new skills that can improve production, cut time spent in the creation of your product (or service), reduce production costs, reduce mistakes, build confidence, and create a better working environment.

An investment in your employees’ skill sets is an investment in your company. When everyone gets better, everyone gets better.

To learn more about our paraprofessional certification program, head to our academy page.

The Bigger Picture

One question to ask, is your state bar having conversations around expanding the responsibilities of non-attorneys? If you are a mass tort attorney, provide them with information on how mass tort paraprofessionals support the legal process.

At the Mass Tort Institute, we want to hear from paraprofessionals and attorneys on what kind of training and experience they want to see come through their doors. And we want to know what you want to learn and experience in mass tort.

As an industry, we take on the Goliaths and do that very well. But how do we prepare the Davids both those with a license to practice law and those without? We could use your input! Reaching out to us is simple! Simply call 888-789-TORT, email us at: info@masstortinstitute.com or send us a message through our website.

Written by Jerise Henson

About the Author

Jerise Henson is the Academy Content Writer at The Mass Tort Institute. She has served in numerous roles in mass tort firms from case manager to paralegal and director of client services. She is passionate and dedicated to improving education and training for allied professionals in the mass tort industry.

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