By KYRA HAAS, Arizona Capitol Times
PHOENIX (AP) – Ten lay paraprofessionals will soon begin working in Arizona, providing legal services in limited practice areas previously restricted to licensed attorneys.
The creation of this new level of legal service provider is an effort to reduce the “justice gap”. It’s the difference between the civil legal needs of low-income people and the resources available to meet them, according to the Legal Services Corporation, the country’s largest funder for this aid.
“Research on unmet civil legal needs suggests that about 80% of those needs do not end up in court. At the same time, legal aid organizations are able to satisfy less than half of those who seek legal aid, ”according to a 2019 report from the Arizona Supreme Court’s Task Force on Providing Legal Aid. legal services.
One of the task force’s recommendations was to create the Paraprofessional Legal Program. Utah and Washington State have launched similar programs. States like California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, New York and Oregon are investigating this possibility, reports the Arizona Capitol Times.
The Arizona Supreme Court’s Council of Lay Legal Service Providers authorized these top 10 paraprofessionals in late November. They will soon be Affiliate Members of the Arizona State Bar, and they will then be able to begin providing these limited services without the supervision of a lawyer. Limited areas of practice include family law, civil law with limited jurisdiction, criminal and administrative law with limited jurisdiction. Before applying for a license, individuals must pass a basic exam and an exam for their specific area of practice.
Paraprofessionals will cover common ground, doing legal work that may not be profitable for a lawyer, but may also be too complicated for an individual to handle on their own. Amber Labadie said she can work with a typical family law client who doesn’t have complex financial issues but still needs help with a divorce or custody issue.
“A lot of times they (the clients) are quoted $ 5,000, $ 10,000 in fees,” she said. “Because I’m not a lawyer, I can do it inexpensively. “
To date, 21 people have passed the two exams required to apply for a license.
With a 40-year legal career, the newly licensed Labadie, like the others in this first group, qualified to be a legal paraprofessional because of her legal experience, coupled with passing the required exams. To be eligible, applicants had to have spent seven of the past ten years working as a paralegal. Labadie said she was delighted that there is now a stage between a paralegal and a lawyer, similar to what a nurse practitioner is to a doctor.
“I saw it as an opportunity to go further because I can’t as a paralegal – it was as far as I could go,” said Labadie.
New legal paraprofessionals are required to follow the rules of professional conduct of the state Supreme Court. They must undergo continuing education and may be subject to investigation and disciplinary action for violation of the rules like other members of the Bar.
While the former group qualified through experience, colleges and universities are also adapting and / or developing programs for students to qualify through education or a combination of education and of experience, said Suzanne Porter, head of legal services programs at the Arizona Supreme Court.
“I think the interest is greater than the numbers show at the moment, given that there are still education programs being developed,” Porter said.
Labadie has worked at Lewis Labadie, a small law firm with offices in Tempe and Maricopa, since 2016. His daughter Brittany Labadie is the managing partner of the firm. Amber Labadie said the firm has started to move away from family law, but with her new license, she wants to bring back some of it in a more affordable way.
“Clients who have millions of dollars are going to hire a top lawyer – they’re not going to hire an LP,” Labadie said. “These are the hard working middle class people who need the legal advice or legal help that an LP should be able to offer.”
Family law is the area that needs it most, according to the 2019 State Supreme Court Task Force Report.
Hiring a lawyer is often prohibitively expensive, leading some to represent themselves or simply not sort out the legal problem, according to the report. Explaining how to navigate the courts is not enough, task force members said.
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