JFAP's Limited License Proposal
This page chronicles our journey advocating for regulatory reform to increase access to justice in North Carolina. On Jan. 22, 2021, the North Carolina Justice for All Project (JFAP) submitted a proposal to the North Carolina State Bar and the North Carolina Supreme Court seeking changes to N.C.G.S. § 84 (Unauthorized Practice of Law) to allow alternative legal service providers to offer limited legal services to low- and moderate-income North Carolinians. The proposal contemplates completing certain requirements (e.g., examination, certification, education, experience) before licensing.
The Justice for All Project presented the proposal separately to the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission, Chaired by Chief Justice Paul M. Newby, and the North Carolina State Bar in early 2021. The March 23, 2021, presentation to the NC State Bar is linked in the timeline below.
Our initial proposal was a culmination of years of work. Still, we have learned more about the legal needs of North Carolinians since the publication of North Carolina's 2021 Civil Legal Needs Assessment and speaking to other stakeholders in the community. We have also learned more about the views of various stakeholders, including lawyers, since S.M. Kernodle-Hodges and Alicia Mitchell-Mercer were appointed to the NC State Bar Regulatory Subcommittee in early 2021. That Subcommittee was tasked with exploring various access-to-justice initiatives and issued a report in favor of limited licensing in January 2022. The greater NC State Bar continues to study the issue through its new Access to Justice Committee, which is in the process of becoming a standing committee.
We are presently working on an updated proposal and hope to publish the updated proposal in February 2023. If you would like to provide input regarding limited licensing in North Carolina, please complete our survey.
Jan. 22, 2021, Proposal Documents
North Carolina State Bar
Meetings and Other Updates
10/19/2022 - First Inaugural Meeting of Standing Access to Justice Committee
The new Access to Justice Committee of the NC State Bar held its first meeting on 10/19/22. The new committee follows a two-year study by the Subcommittee Studying Regulatory Change (which voted in favor of limited licensing and other initiatives), of which Kernodle-Hodges and Alicia Michell-Mercer were members. Limited licensing is tantamount to nurse practitioners in the legal field to make legal services more affordable.
The new committee will meet four times yearly and has the following charge:
"Access to Justice Committee. It shall be the duty of the Access to Justice Committee to study and to recommend to the council programs and initiatives that respond to the profession's responsibility, set forth in the Preamble to the Rules of Professional Conduct, "to ensure equal access to our system of justice for all those who, because of economic or social barriers, cannot afford or secure adequate legal counsel." 27 NC. Admin. Code 2.0.1, Preamble.
The previously existing subcommittee studying legal deserts is now a subcommittee of the Access to Justice Committee.
Appointments to the Access to Justice Committee include:
Matt Smith (Chair)
Eben Rawls (Vice-Chair)
Dorothy Hairston Mitchell
Virginia Burrows (Paralegal)
Candace Harke (Pembroke Legal Aid)
Mark Henriques (Former Councilor, 26th Judicial District)
Cheryl Howell (UNC School of Government)
Jennifer Lechner (Equal Access to Justice Commission)
Grace Ward (Paralegal)
Ex Officio: State Bar Officers
Staff: Brian Oten, Mary Irvine (other staff lawyers assigned as needed)
There are some tremendous access to justice champions here. We are concerned those voices may be stifled by those who oppose reform. We are also concerned that this new committee was formed solely to appear that state bar leaders are doing something about the access to justice crisis and to appear empathetic to the plight of North Carolinians. With only four meetings per year and behind-the-scenes opposition to regulatory reform, there is reasonable concern that North Carolina State Bar officers have no serious intention of acting on previously discussed initiatives.
According to the 2021 NC Civil Legal Needs Assessment, 1.7 million civil legal cases of 26 civil issue types during 2015-2019 underscore the needs of North Carolina's low-income communities. More than half of all cases annually are housing-related for summary ejectments (46%) and foreclosures (10%). Family-related civil legal issues accounted for 30% of the total volume annually and included divorce (10%), domestic violence (9%), custody issues (5%), no-contact orders (3%), restraining orders (1%), and temporary custody orders (1%). It's time to take some action.
10/17/2022 - Regulatory Reform Update
North Carolina Regulatory Reform Update
It has been a little over two years since the State Bar’s Subcommittee Studying Regulatory Change first met on June 4, 2020, to study various types of regulatory reform (e.g., limited licensing, court navigators, regulatory sandbox).
On June 3, 2021, the Bar’s Subcommittee Studying Regulatory Change voted to recommend that the Bar create a separate ad hoc committee to lay out a plan for limited licensing.
On July 15, 2021, the Executive Committee approved an ad hoc committee (https://lnkd.in/eVChSS9Q) to develop a limited licensing plan. We expected that committee to be staffed, but last fall, we were told that certain leaders at the bar were trying to "stack the committee to control the vote," causing some conflict. No action was ever taken on that vote. After that date, the Regulatory Subcommittee continued exploring other initiatives.
On January 7, 2022, Chairman Mark Henriques completed the Subcommittee’s final report (https://lnkd.in/eSuQGyDd) on its work over the past 18 months. The report includes the following recommendations:
Pursue a Limited License for Nonlawyers/Paraprofessionals
Pursue a Regulatory Sandbox
Recommend a Court Navigator’s Program to the Administrative Office of the Courts
Refrain from Pursuing Alternative Admission to the Bar at this Time
Explore Necessary Changes to Permit Alternative Business Structures and Fee Sharing with Nonlawyers
Explore the Possible Liberalization of the Unauthorized Practice of Law Statutes
Pursuant to State Bar meetings held over the summer, after nearly two years of study by the Regulatory Change Subcommittee, the State Bar has created a standing Access to Justice Committee to study further the Regulatory Subcommittee’s recommendations (timestamp: 1:03:54 – 1:06:04) here (https://lnkd.in/eVdRYTFq).
We sent a letter to the State Bar in July to request at least one seat on the new committee. We were told in March 2021 that if we were patient, they would keep us up to date on their internal processes. Instead, we were met with silence. We did not hear back from the State Bar until we followed up again last week when we saw the new Access to Justice Committee was scheduled for a meeting on October 19.
As it turns out, none of the advisory members on the previous Regulatory Change Subcommittee who advocated fiercely for limited licensing and other types of reform were appointed to this committee. However, the primary State Bar officers who oppose limited licensing remain ex-officio of the new standing committee.
Several lawyers in various positions told us the State Bar would create committees to make it look like they plan to accomplish something. One lawyer said they'd drag this out to the 2nd and 3rd generations before they took action. We had hoped they were wrong.
We are determined to bring more affordable legal services to the people of our state. Stay tuned. We're just getting started.
7/20-21/2022 - NC State Bar Issues Committee Meeting
On July 20-21, 2022, representatives of North Carolina Justice for All Project attended the Issues Committee meeting in Wilmington, North Carolina, and watched the Executive Committee meeting to hear the State Bar’s plan for recommendations made by the Regulatory Subcommittee in its January 2022 report. The State Bar voted to create an Access to Justice Committee to study further the Regulatory Subcommittee's recommendations, including limited licensing, the regulatory sandbox concept, and other initiatives. It will likely take some time to create the committee and fill the committee seats.
Additionally, the NC State Bar has been studying Legal Deserts. Lawyers in rural America are an increasingly rare occurrence. Despite nearly 20% of Americans living in rural areas, only around 2% of small practices are located there. Within these “legal deserts,” access to even basic civil legal services slows or halts. A 2017 study by the Legal Services Corporation found that “rural residents receive inadequate or no professional legal help for 86% of their civil legal problems.”
We will keep you updated in that regard.
Watch video | Timestamp: 1:03:54 - 1:06:04
Issues Committee Minutes
4/20/2022 - NC State Bar Issues Committee Meeting
At the April meeting, the Issues Committee had two final reports to consider, one from the D&I Subcommittee and the other from the Regulatory Reform Subcommittee, which was proffered by Mark Henriques. Because there was so much to cover, the meeting was scheduled for two hours, but it still was not enough time. For this reason, none of the recommendations were voted on at the April meeting, and Mark Henriques will be returning in July to present the recommendations. At the April meeting, there was much consternation regarding the proposal to study the creation of paraprofessional licensing and the sandbox proposal. There was significant pushback regarding the formulation of a paraprofessional license program.
1/22/2022 - 1st Proposal Anniversary
Today is the 1st anniversary of our limited license proposal to Chief Justice Paul Newby of the NC Supreme Court and the North Carolina State Bar. Our proposal outlines a plan of licensing legal paraprofessionals as one way to bridge the access to justice gap.
As an update regarding the proposal's status and how it relates to a legal regulatory sandbox, we share the following.
On 6/3/2021, the Bar's Subcommittee Studying Regulatory Change voted to recommend that the Bar create a separate ad hoc committee to lay out a plan for limited licensing.
On 07/15/21, the Executive Committee of the Bar approved the formation of an ad hoc committee to complete additional study, develop a limited licensing plan, identify practice areas for the license, etc. Listen to the Executive Committee pass that motion here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HczT-tneHrU&t=1140s between 19:00 - 21:16.
After that date, the Subcommittee Studying Regulatory Change continued its other work by exploring a regulatory sandbox, court navigators, and other initiatives.
On 12/15/21, the initial Subcommittee held its last meeting and discussed recommending the administration of limited licensing inside of a regulatory sandbox. After a lively debate, the Subcommittee voted against this proposal. Watch that meeting here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OD3g9aRgmY0&feature=youtu.be
On January 7, 2022, Chairman Mark Henriques completed the Subcommittee’s final report to the State Bar Council on its work over the past 18 months, including the Subcommittee's additional recommendation for a regulatory sandbox. Mark presented this report to the Issues Committee on January 19, 2022. Read the State Bar report here: https://www.ncjfap.org/_files/ugd/8a3baf_e6fe61abff614570a7c73eaf98342f07.pdf
The Issues Committee voted to continue the discussion of the regulatory sandbox until the meetings scheduled for APRIL 19-22, 2022, citing a desire to give its members more time to review materials and a preference to discuss the matter in person instead of on Zoom.
Although an ad hoc committee was approved for limited licensing on July 15, 2021, six months later we are still waiting for a committee to be formed. We understand there is some consternation regarding our proposal within the State Bar and pushback from some bar members. We remain optimistic that the State Bar will consider its primary mission of protecting the public by exploring these access to justice initiatives.
The Subcommittee Studying Regulatory Change has completed its work and a Report has been prepared, which includes recommendations to the Issues Committee and the State Bar Council concerning regulatory reform (e.g., limited licensing, regulatory sandbox, and others) to facilitate access to justice in North Carolina. The Report will be provided to the Issues Committee at its meeting on January 19, 2022, and the State Bar Council at its meeting on January 21, 2022. After that meeting, we hope to have a better idea of how the State Bar Council will manage the Subcommittee's recommendations.
Final Report of Subcommittee Studying Regulatory Change
The Subcommittee discusses concerns from NC State Bar leadership and other stakeholders regarding the limited licensing of paraprofessionals proposal. Mark Henriques and Brian Oten ask the Subcommittee to recommend that the State Bar focus on the regulatory sandbox concept with the potential for the regulatory sandbox to consider and house limited licensing proposals. The committee engages in a lively debate and votes 6-5 to recommend that a limited licensing program and a regulatory sandbox program continue on separate tracks.
Jeff Kelly discusses the benefits of a regulatory sandbox. He discusses ways NC might benefit from allowing non-lawyers to work within the constraints of the sandbox on innovative legal services that could facilitate access to justice. The working group consisting of Camille Stell, S.M. Kernodle-Hodges, and Alicia Mitchell-Mercer assisted with putting together the presentation.
The subcommittee discussed updates on regulatory reform in other jurisdictions. Mr. Henriques next updated the subcommittee on the State Bar Council’s July 2021 quarterly meeting. Specifically, Mr. Henriques noted that the Council approved the creation of a new ad hoc committee for the purpose of further exploring and developing a license to practice limited areas of law for paraprofessionals.
The State Bar Issues Committee hears a presentation from Chair of the Regulatory Subcommittee and State Bar Councilor Mark Henriques regarding limited licensing. Mark Henriques makes a motion at 20:08 in the video below to create the ad hoc committee and the Issues Committee passes that motion at 21:11.
Jennifer Lechner and Mary Irvine present the NC Legal Needs Assessment to the Subcommittee. This study represents the first comprehensive legal needs assessment in nearly two decades for the State of North Carolina. The study was undertaken to:
Identify legal needs of low-income communities and document current resources and services available to meet those needs.
Understand specifics regarding the gaps in availability of services and what resources are needed to address unmet legal needs.
Identify and quantify, where possible, the accomplishments of legal services providers since 2000.
Produce a written report that can educate stakeholders about the justice gap in North Carolina.
Provide data and analysis that will be useful to legal aid providers and stakeholder organizations seeking to expand access to civil legal aid.
Gain a more detailed understanding of how race, gender, age, disability and other factors affect the depth and type of civil legal problems people experience.
Identify by geographic, racial, gender and other demographics who gets help and who does not.
Where possible, assess whether those who do get legal help are able to achieve long-term solutions.
The Law Society of Ontario speaks to the State Bar regarding its Paralegal Licensing program, which was established in 2007. The Justice for All Project (JFAP) team presents a proposal to the NC State Bar for the licensing of paraprofessionals to mitigate the access to justice crisis. Alicia Mitchell-Mercer delivered the presentation.
Video (Law Society of Ontario)
Video (JFAP Proposal for Limited Licensing)
Dave Byers discusses the benefits of Arizona's Legal Document Preparer program and Arizona's upcoming limited licensing program. He believes that regulatory reform in Arizona has had a significant impact on access to justice in that state.
Lucy Ricca discusses Utah's Regulatory Sandbox. August 2020, Utah made history as the first state to establish a regulatory sandbox, providing a space for lawyers and other professionals to deliver nontraditional legal services under the supervision of the state supreme court. A year later, numerous businesses and collaborations are up and running, providing a wide range of much-needed legal services.
Jeff Ward discusses the role of technology in the Access to Justice crisis while acknowledging that everyone doesn’t have access to internet service. He discusses how innovation and the tech community can assist with access to justice barriers but supports exploring additional approaches to meeting civil legal needs.
Jennifer Lechner gives a presentation to the NC State Bar regarding the mission of the NC Equal Access to Justice Commission, past efforts of the NC Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice, and the pending (at that time) 2020 Legal Needs Assessment, which highlights the areas of practice in which North Carolinas have the most legal need.
William Henderson discusses the potential consequences of lawyers who are slow to innovate and adopt technology to scale legal services delivery. Henderson discussed the differences between the one-to-many ( lawyers using technology to increase the number of clients they can reach) and one-to-one (lawyer's meeting with clients one on one) and why the one-to-many model is an important component of access to justice.
The Chair, Mr. Mark Henriques, reviewed the charge to the committee, including the following mission
statement: Several states have adopted or proposed substantial changes to the structure of legal practice and delivery of legal services. This subcommittee will review and discuss these changes, with a focus on the actual impact these changes have had on lawyers and clients. We will consider how these changes may impact North Carolina and whether any of the changes should be considered for implementation in North Carolina. The subcommittee expects to issue one or more reports summarizing and assessing regulatory changes in other states. It does not plan to recommend specific changes for adoption by the Council.