The Connecticut Bar Association Task Force on the Future of Legal Education and Standards of Admission has recommended that state regulators allow persons other than licensed lawyers to practice law under certain restrictive guidelines. In evaluating various procedures and practices in Connecticut, the task force has suggested, among other things, that court rules be modified so as to permit non-lawyers to provide basic legal services to legal consumers. While proposals for lowering the cost of a JD and shortening the law school curriculum from a three-year program to a two-year one were rejected, the task force recognized that “much legal work is already being performed by individuals with credentials less than fully licensed attorneys” and that there is and would still be a demand for these sorts of professionals.
Connecticut Superior Court Judge Kenneth Shluger, who chaired the task force commented that, “[t]here is an unmet need for legal representation”. Opponents of expanding the practice of law to non-lawyers have questioned non-lawyers’ ability to provide safe and reliable legal assistance to consumers. However, Judge Shluger has laid that concern to rest in noting that these non-lawyers would be “highly educated and trained in specific practice areas.” The task force’s recommendation requires that the non-lawyers undergo post-bachelor’s degree training somewhere between that of a paralegal and a lawyer. This has been likened to the middle ground a nurse practitioner occupies between a nurse and a doctor.
According to the task force, these “super paralegals” would be most useful, initially, in areas of practice where there are a high volume of individuals representing themselves—simple divorces, small claims, and landlord-tenant disputes. Under the nurse practitioner model, legal consumers who do not have the funds to hire an attorney and would otherwise be forced to handle the matter themselves would now have the option to have a super paralegal assist with their claim or dispute.
Last summer, in a precursor to the recommendation of the Connecticut task force, the American Bar Association’s Task Force on the Future of Legal Education recommended that state regulators license non-lawyers to provide specific legal services to advise and assist consumers in specific areas of law. The states of Washington and California have begun down this path already. Washington is about to begin licensing Limited License Legal Technicians (LLLTs). The state’s LLLT board approved family law as the first area in which these trained non-lawyers will be allowed to provide assistance, and is set to begin licensing these professionals by Spring 2015.
In California, licensing non-lawyers has been heavily debated with points of contention lying around how changes will affect job security for lawyers. However, in a state where 80% of state divorce litigants are self-represented, LLLTs could bring a great deal of relief and efficiency. The State Bar of California held public debates on this issue. After testimony largely supportive of LLLTs, The Limited License Working Group endorsed taking further steps towards licensing LLLTs.
Elisheva Aneke is a Responsive Law intern.
Recently, we wrote a guest post for our friends over at UpCounsel on Fee Sharing, Innovation, and the Consumer Interest. You’ll have to click through to read the whole thing, but (briefly) the argument runs as follows:
American Bar Association Model Rule 5.4 prohibits lawyers and law firms from sharing legal fees with non-lawyers, and while this might sound innocuous, in reality Rule 5.4 is hurting everyone who doesn’t have a law degree. The two justifications often given for the ban on fee sharing (the pernicious influence of non-lawyers and fear about the commercialization of the practice of law) simply don’t stand up to scrutiny. The most salient impact of Rule 5.4 is that it stifles innovation in the legal services industry – innovation that could provide consumers with more value for their dollar when faced with a legal situation. Despite successful liberalization of similar rules in other common-law countries like Australia and the UK, here in the US the American Bar Association has refused to even consider relaxing Rule 5.4. The ray of hope? An underreported Jacoby & Meyers lawsuit against the states of New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey is still working its way through the court system. If successful, these cases could overturn the prohibitions on fee sharing and outside investment, giving the American legal services industry a much-needed breath of fresh air - and consumers’ wallets a much-needed break.
Danny Foster is a Responsive Law intern.
Of all the buzzwords our modern economy has spawned, few are as notorious as “outsourced.” In the current economic downturn, even lawyers weren’t immune to losing jobs overseas, but now Connecticut state Rep. Patricia Dillon is backing a bill that would charge non-lawyers performing legal document review work overseas (a job that usually requires a law license in the United States) with unauthorized practice of law.
Irrespective of the merits or practicalities of the bill, there is a more confusing issue at stake. For many years, laws and rules against the unauthorized practice of law have crowded competent non-lawyer service providers out of the marketplace. Under the guise of consumer protection, the legal profession has prevented consumers from choosing lower cost alternatives to traditional legal representation, pricing access to the legal system out of the reach of most Americans in the process
But when the economy went sour, lawyers were just as eager as any business to control costs. Since lawyers are very expensive, it was an obvious choice to outsource legal work to non-lawyers. Rules against the unauthorized practice of law prevented use of lower cost, non-lawyer labor here in the United States, however, so law firms had to outsource the work overseas. In other words, rules in our country prevent the average consumer from using less expensive non-lawyer services, but don’t stop law firms from availing themselves of the same lower cost services in another country.
Since the legal profession has demonstrated that its alleged concerns about protecting consumers from non-lawyer legal services stop at the water’s edge, perhaps instead of Representative Dillon trying to curtail the use of non-lawyer practitioners overseas, her constituents would be far better served by allowing them access to lower cost non-lawyer services here at home.
The Supreme Court of Connecticut recently added two new slide-show videos to the ‘Self-Help’ section of their website to help self-represented litigants fill out basic legal forms. These two new videos, along with two previous ones, allow self-represented litigants to easily navigate one of the most difficult aspects of being self-represented—properly filling out the forms. The videos are approximately twenty minutes each and are easily navigable with a right side outline. They also can be tailored toward the hearing impaired or persons without computer speakers by offering a closed caption option.
Connecticut has enacted a new criminal law that could apply sweeping new restrictions on people's ability to receive legal assistance, with punishment ranging up to five years in prison.
The new law, which was Senate Bill 829, changes the state's relatively reasonable definition of practice of law to a much broader one that could potentially encompass a number of professional activities, including the work of doctors, financial planners, and real estate agents. It also could criminalize any non-lawyer giving advice to a friend or family member about how to fill out paperwork or how to handle any other matter involving legal rights.
The bill also raises the penalty for unauthorized practice of law from a class C misdemeanor, with a maximum sentence of three months, to a class D felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. This is the same sentence applicable to crimes such as jury tampering and third degree burglary.
Responsive Law was the only group to testify against this proposal, speaking out on behalf of the people whose professional behavior may be criminalized and those whose access to legal information may be chilled. Our testimony on this bill can be found here.