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Paralegal Licensing and Regulation: Part I-The ''Pros''

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Ask any paralegal what the most controversial and sensitive issues surrounding the profession are, and licensing and regulation will undoubtedly be at the top of the list. In this two-part series, LawCrossing takes a look at the ''pros'' and ''cons'' of paralegal licensure and regulation.

Efforts at regulating the paralegal profession are becoming increasingly widespread. In 2001, California adopted clear guidelines on the education, work experience, supervision, performance, and confidentiality requirements of paralegals. State legislatures, bar associations, and courts nationwide continue to adopt definitions of the terms "paralegal" and "legal assistant." Most of them reserve those titles for persons who are supervised by an attorney or other entity and qualified through education and experience to perform certain legal tasks.

And paralegals, legal assistants, and paralegal organizations are taking note. Both the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) and the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) have released statements on the topic. NALA asserts that state regulation is unnecessary, but stands behind third-party education, testing, and professional improvement efforts. NFPA endorses certain regulation efforts that would allow paralegals to provide certain additional tasks to the public.

But before one may form an opinion regarding licensing, it is important to understand the terms behind it. "A license is something that gives one the right to practice a particular profession. It is usually (put in place) to make sure that whoever is performing a line of work has met the minimum qualifications for it," says Frederick T. Golder, Professor at the Massachusetts School of Law, employment attorney, and author. "Regulations are the requirements imposed on people performing a particular trade or (acting under) a particular license."

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