Paralegal Licensing and Regulation: Part II-The ''Cons''

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Paralegal Licensing and Regulation: Part II-The ''Cons''
Licensing and Regulation, the most controversial and sensitive issues surrounding paralegals and legal assistants.
Statutory licensing and regulation efforts don't sit well with many paralegals. For some of those already in the profession, the idea of being compelled to go through testing, education, or other licensing regulations seems like an unnecessary hassle. "Some paralegals may not like that, unless they could see some benefit from it," says Nancy Roney, legal assistant and former Co-Director of Continuing Education of the Massachusetts Paralegal Association. In fact, some paralegals may be so dissatisfied with licensing requirements that they will refuse to undergo regulation efforts; rather, they will simply continue doing their present tasks under a different title.

Costs to employers, clients, and the general public are yet another reason some oppose licensure. "(One) reason for having paralegals is to keep legal costs down," says Marge Dover, Executive Director of the National Association of Legal Assistants. "There are increased costs (to) licensing and the recurring costs of re-licensing." Attorneys may have to pay more to hire a licensed paralegal, and while at first this seems like great news to legal assistants, some experts warn that increased employer costs may actually lead to a tighter race to be hired. "The true regulation may (prove to) be the job market," says Frederick T. Golder, Professor at the Massachusetts School of Law, employment attorney, and author. There is even the possibility that attorneys will simply hire legal secretaries, law clerks, or others to perform the paralegal's tasks, all to keep overhead down.

Another argument against licensing says regulations are unnecessary because paralegals already work under the supervision of licensed attorneys. Attorneys are often accountable for their employees' conduct. As such, some believe that paralegal licensing may be going too far. "In some respects, (licensing) may be over-regulating paralegals, as they are supervised by attorneys," Mr. Golder says. "On the other hand, consider the doctor-nurse relationship: even though doctors are licensed and regulated and nurses work under their supervision, (there are still licensing and regulation requirements imposed on nurses as well)."

Experts point out that opposition to licensure doesn't necessarily mean opposition to continuing education and testing. "Government regulations and third-party certification are apples and oranges," says Ms. Dover. "(Lack of licensing) doesn't mean paralegals can't regulate themselves through voluntary certification. There are actually benefits to certification: it's a third-party acknowledgment of (the paralegal's) commitment to stay current and abreast of changes." In fact, the CLE exam and the PACE exam both exist to certify paralegals and legal assistants, thereby allowing test-takers to showcase their skills and commitment to the profession.

Whether it's about private testing or state licensure, some paralegals believe the problem lies in a lack of consensus about regulatory issues. "The problem is, there isn't a group who has come up with good criteria for what should be involved in (licensing and regulation,)" Ms. Roney says. "(The issue of licensing) has been talked about for years, but no one is coming up with the criteria behind it, (and) no one even knows who should come up with them."

One thing on which all paralegals and legal assistants agree is that licensure and regulation will be a controversial topic of debate across the profession for years to come. "This is a delicate issue. There are pluses and minuses and certainly two schools of thoughts that (both) have their merits," says Renee Sova, Director of Alumni and Advanced Specialty Programs at the American Institute for Paralegal Studies. "Paralegals do not (necessarily) have control of their destiny when it comes to this issue. They can lobby for it, but until it is passed as law, paralegals will continue to work under the auspices of attorneys and under their licenses."

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