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Licensing Requirements for Paralegals: Pros & Cons (Part I) - An Overview

published April 12, 2023

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Summary

Paralegals, also known as legal assistants, are an essential part of the legal industry, providing administrative and legal support to attorneys. In some states, paralegals are required to obtain a license for regulation. In the first part of a two-part series, we will discuss the pros of paralegal licensing and regulation.

Paralegal licensing and regulation can help to ensure that paralegals possess the necessary skills and knowledge to successfully assume the duties of a legal assistant. The licensing process often includes a comprehensive examination to demonstrate competency in the areas required to become a qualified paralegal, such as civil procedure, criminal law, legal research and writing, and ethics. As part of the licensing process, paralegals may also need to complete a certain number of continuing education credits to stay current in their field.

In addition to providing assurance of competency, paralegal licensing and regulation can also help to protect the public from unlawful paralegal practices. Without the proper licensing, paralegals are not bound to a professional code of conduct or held accountable for their actions in the same way that attorneys are. By requiring paralegals to obtain a license, the public can rest assured that the paralegal has gone through the necessary training and knowledge assessment to perform their job effectively and ethically.

Paralegal licensing and regulation also helps to ensure the quality of legal services, as the licensing process requires individuals to possess the knowledge and skills necessary to competently research and interpret law. By licensing paralegals, jurisdictions can help to protect the general public from potential malpractice and ensure that those offering paralegal services are qualified to do so.

In conclusion, paralegal licensing and regulation is beneficial in both protecting the public and ensuring the quality of legal services. By requiring paralegals to obtain a license, jurisdictions can ensure that paralegals meet the necessary qualifications to practice as legal assistants and are held to a professional code of conduct. Ultimately, this helps to protect the public from irresponsible or unlawful practices and ensures they are receiving the highest quality legal assistance.

Paralegal licensing and regulation can be beneficial in many ways. It can help to ensure that paralegals possess the necessary knowledge and skills to competently provide legal assistance, protect the public from unlawful practices, and guarantee the quality of legal services. By requiring paralegals to obtain a license, jurisdictions can help to ensure that individuals offering paralegal services are qualified and held to a professional code of conduct to ensure the highest quality of service.
 

The Rise of the Paralegal Profession

Since the 1970s, the paralegal profession has been on the rise. As more and more legal services that could previously only be provided by a lawyer become accessible to the public, more people are now looking to paralegals for assistance in a variety of legal matters. This has sparked an interest in the regulation and licensing of paralegals, as well as the pros and cons that come with it.
 

The Benefits of Licensing & Regulation

Licensing and regulation of paralegals provide numerous benefits, including increased public safety and uniformity in the field of practice. Regulation enables paralegals to have a degree of protection from unscrupulous lawyers, firms, and other individuals who may try to take advantage of paralegals or clients. In addition, licensing provides a framework for paralegals to receive the necessary education and training to be able to practice in a certain jurisdiction.
 

Protections for Clients

The regulation of paralegals can also help to protect the interests of clients. Licensed paralegals are more closely monitored, which helps to ensure that they are providing their services in accordance with the law and professional ethics. Moreover, regulation can provide additional protections to the public by ensuring that only qualified individuals are providing legal services.
 

Holds Paralegals Accountable

Paralegals may also benefit from regulation and licensing by providing an increased sense of accountability. Licensing can help to hold paralegals accountable for their actions and prevent them from engaging in unethical activities. This can help to reduce the potential for fraud and other potential issues that could arise from the unauthorized practice of law.
 

Enhances Professionalism

Licensing and regulation of paralegals can also help to bolster professionalism in the field. Paralegals that are licensed or regulated may be more apt to follow established practices and standards of practice than those that are not. This can help to ensure that the public is being served by professionals who are knowledgeable, conscientious, and ethical.

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."

The debate over whether to implement paralegal licensing efforts is a hot-button issue among the entire profession. "There are two schools of thought on the licensing and regulation issue," says Renee Sova, Director of Alumni and Advanced Specialty Programs at the American Institute for Paralegal Studies. "One is that (licensing) will enhance the work a paralegal will be able to perform and provide access to legal services for those that can't currently afford it. Others are against licensure because they feel that the profession was created to assist attorneys, not replace them. They argue that attorneys are already licensed, and (because) paralegals work for attorneys, (there is no) need for a double layer of licensure."

Professional development, advancement, and recognition of the profession are significant reasons why paralegals lobby for licensure. "Through licensing, (the paralegal profession) may become more recognized," says Nancy Roney, legal assistant and former Co-Director of Continuing Education of the Massachusetts Paralegal Association. In addition to recognizing the value of the profession, regulating it may also keep out individuals who are not qualified for the job. "Licensing can serve a gate-keeping function, limiting the number of people who may call themselves paralegals," says Mr. Golder.

Licensure and regulation could mean more tangible benefits to paralegals as well. "It may result in pay increases and more opportunities for advancement," Ms. Roney believes. In addition to being paid more, many paralegals hope that licensure and state regulations may lead to better assignments. "Paralegals want to utilize their skills and knowledge they were trained for while attending paralegal training programs," explains Ms. Sova. "If licensure could guarantee that paralegals would obtain assignments that require high-end analytical skills, rest assured all paralegals would come together on this issue."

Furthermore, licensed paralegals could put the public at ease. "Licensing would lead to the public's trust that (paralegals) have certain qualifications," says Ms. Roney. In fact, a license is often imposed on a particular profession as an effort to protect the public from individuals not qualified to provide a certain service. "Licensing can give people a certain level of comfort," Mr. Golder says. Some paralegals also lobby for licensing in hopes that by adhering to statewide regulations, they will be allowed to provide certain additional services to the public, thereby actually reducing the high costs of legal services and elevating the profession as a whole.

For both the public and the profession itself, licensing and regulation could mean some positive results. However, some paralegals and legal assistants believe licensure across the board is unnecessary and unhelpful. Stay tuned for Part II of our series, where LawCrossing investigates the drawbacks behind paralegal licensure and regulation.

Click Here to find California paralegal jobs on LawCrossing.

Please see the following articles for more information about paralegals and paralegal jobs:
 

published April 12, 2023

( 829 votes, average: 4.5 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.