State Activity Concerning Limited Licensing
We thank the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) for its efforts in advancing regulatory reform across the country and for supporting our organization, which strives for regulatory reform in North Carolina. Recently, IAALS began collecting information about regulatory reform progress in each state, which we were previously doing on our own. Now we can refer stakeholders to IAALS while focusing on regulatory reform North Carolina. We invite you to learn more about IAALS and their study of Allied Legal Professionals by reviewing this research paper published in Nov. 2022 and a national map of current and in-progress state programs.
"The purposes of this paper are to explain why many states have begun to create a new tier of legal service providers (“Allied Legal Professional” or “ALP”)1 and to describe the similarities and differences between each one. One of the first steps states have taken when developing their own program has been to look at what other states are doing. This report is designed to be used as a resource for states interested in creating their own ALP program to understand not only what other states’ programs consist of, but also their reasoning behind many of their decisions.
The paper begins with an overview of the current access to justice problem that is plaguing the United States of America. It then details which states currently have active programs and which states have created proposals for a program in the future. The paper then describes each of the major pieces of the framework that makes up an ALP, how states’ programs and proposals differ from one another, and why states have chosen the framework they have. It ends with a look at the benefits and challenges that exist with the active programs based on the various studies that have been done."
Background on Regulatory Reform
The push for regulatory change in the legal profession is not new. For decades, academics and practitioners have debated the effectiveness of the current regulatory structure of the practice of law, ranging from the prohibitions on the unauthorized practice of law to the ethical parameters within which lawyers must operate. The argument is that the current structure for practicing law stifles innovation, unnecessarily prohibits capable individuals from providing legal services to those who cannot afford to retain a lawyer, and limits lawyers in their abilities to expand services, both in terms of quantity and quality.
The hope is that changes made to the regulation of the practice of law will empower more legal service providers to serve the people better, particularly the populations that cannot afford legal services as they exist today. These debates, however, have rarely produced any meaningful change inside the United States. Other foreign jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada, have implemented changes to their regulatory structures for the practice of law, including permitting fee sharing with nonlawyers, permitting law firms to be publicly traded, and permitting paraprofessionals to engage in the practice of law, albeit in a limited manner. Although research shows that these changes have not harmed clients, the impact these changes have on improving access to legal services remains unknown.
One thing, however, is clear: Those who need legal services cannot always meaningfully obtain those services. Reports from national organizations such as the American Bar Association and the Legal Services Corporation, as well as jurisdiction-specific reports such as California's Legal Market Landscape Report and North Carolina's recent Civil Legal Needs Assessment, provide ample evidence of the current and likely continuing failure of the legal profession to be fully accessible to those in need of legal services, particularly those of lesser means (North Carolina State Bar Regulatory Subcommittee).
Test Cases Potentially
Impacting Regulatory Reform
Test cases challenging the restrictions on the unauthorized practice of law can impact access to justice and legal representation in several ways. Restrictions on freedom of speech can limit the dissemination of legal information and deter individuals from seeking legal advice. Restrictions on the practice of law may lead to a shortage of qualified legal professionals, making it harder for people to find representation. This can result in unequal access to justice, reduced public awareness of legal issues, and fear of speaking out against injustices. To ensure a fair and accessible justice system, it is essential to protect freedom of speech and maintain an open and accessible legal practice. These cases are pushing the envelope and forcing courts to take a second look at how licensing boards regulate their professions.
WHAT HAPPENED IN
While JFAP is not interested in talebearing, we understand that the legal community has made certain assumptions about the reason behind the sunsetting of Washington’s Limited License Legal Technician (LLLT) program. Our proposal addresses this issue more thoroughly (See pp. 17-32). The LLLT program painstakingly brought to fruition in 2012 was abruptly sunset after attorneys in Washington launched intense opposition to the proposed expansion of the program in 2018.
On paper, the program was sunset because it was not financially feasible to continue it due to the low number of applicants who sought to be licensed. However, the LLLT program's leadership has shared with JFAP that increasing opposition from members of the State Bar and high barriers to entering the program, which discouraged applicants from applying, were primary factors. The program was not sunset because of public harm. In fact, in 2017, Thomas M. Clarke, of the National Center for State Courts, and Rebecca L. Sandefur, of the American Bar Foundation authored a report calling the program a success. We can learn from Washington's mistakes while still moving forward with a program that meets the legal needs of North Carolinians.