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Understanding Paralegal Licensing Regulations in the US: Part II - The Cons

published April 12, 2023

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Summary

Paralegals are individuals who are trained to provide legal services under the supervision of a licensed attorney. Paralegals are not licensed and are not regulated, however, some states have generally accepted guidelines for paralegal licensing and regulation. Part II of this article looks at the cons of paralegal licensing and regulation.

The main con of paralegal licensing and regulation is that it increases the cost of paralegal services by requiring paralegals to pay for a license. Licensing and regulation may also slow the process of hiring a paralegal as the licensing process may take time.

Paralegal licensing and regulation is also seen as a way to limit competition for paralegal services since only those who meet the specific qualifications and standards can become licensed. Additionally, licensing may prevent qualified non-licensed paralegals from practicing in their state.

Finally, some oppose paralegal licensing and regulation because they view it as a violation of the Constitution, claiming that such regulation limits the right to practice a profession without government permission.

In conclusion, while paralegal licensing and regulation may provide some benefits, such as ensuring that paralegals meet certain qualifications, there are also potential drawbacks to licensing and regulation, including increased costs, limited competition, and a potential infringement of constitutional rights. The pros and cons of paralegal licensing and regulation need to be carefully weighed before any decision is made.

Paralegal licensing and regulation remains a controversial topic. The pros and cons need to be carefully considered before any decision is made, as licensing and regulation may have some negative consequences. The pros of paralegal licensing and regulation include ensuring that paralegals meet certain qualifications, but the cons include increased costs and limited competition for paralegals. Additionally, some see licensing and regulation as a violation of constitutional rights. For these reasons, paralegals should take the time to evaluate the pros and cons of paralegal licensing and regulation before deciding whether or not to pursue licensing and regulation in their state.
 

Paralegal Licensing & Regulation Part II: The Pros

The American Bar Association, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, and the National Association of Legal Assistants have all strongly advocated for the licensing and regulation of paralegals for many years. Proponents of licensing and regulation point to the immense number of legal tasks that paralegals are now doing, as well as their increasingly sophisticated roles in the legal industry, as reasons why paralegals deserve to be regulated just like lawyers.

Those in favor of paralegal licensing are hoping to achieve the following: requiring paralegals to undergo a certain amount of education and training before they can work in the field; ensuring that they are held to higher standards of practice and ethics; providing greater public protection by allowing only licensed paralegals to practice; and making sure that paralegals are properly equipped to assist attorneys in the legal process. Currently, some states have adopted regulations for their paralegals, while others have adopted a voluntary certification program.

Supporters of licensing and regulation point to the ever-changing legal climate and the need for more education and training in the field of paralegal studies. As the responsibilities of paralegals have grown, so has the need for greater knowledge and expertise to handle the complexities that come with the profession. By ensuring that paralegals are properly trained and knowledgeable about the legal system, licensing and regulation would ensure that paralegals are better prepared to assist attorneys with their cases, thereby providing greater public protection.

Furthermore, licensing and regulation would help to create a more level playing field between lawyers and paralegals. By making sure that paralegals are held to the same standards of practice, ethics, and training as lawyers, licensing and regulation would help to protect the public by establishing a clear distinction between the two professions. This would also help to ensure that paralegals are properly compensated for their work.
 

Advantages of Paralegal Licensing & Regulation

Advocates of paralegal licensing and regulation point to several potential advantages that such a system could bring, including improved public protection, better job opportunities for paralegals, and greater respect for the profession. By making sure that paralegals are properly trained and knowledgeable about the legal system, licensing and regulation would ensure that paralegals are better prepared to assist attorneys with their cases, thereby providing greater public protection. Additionally, licensing and regulation would help to create a more level playing field between paralegals and lawyers, as both would be held to the same standards of practice, ethics, and training. This would also help to ensure that paralegals are properly compensated for their work and that the profession is held in high esteem by the public.

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.
 
Paralegal Licensing And Regulation: Part II-The ''Cons''

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."

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

published April 12, 2023

( 429 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.