By Alaina Dye
At its January 24, 2020 meeting, the State Bar of California’s Board of Trustees adopted a resolution directing staff to consult with the Board’s Access Liaisons to take steps to form a working group to develop recommendations to the Board by the end of 2020 for a paraprofessional program in California. Specifically, the resolution instructs staff to “develop a draft charter, identify the appropriate size and composition of the working group, and solicit interest in participation in the working group.” During the discussion, several Board members emphasized a need for this working group to address issues such as paraprofessional licensing requirements, educational programs, the scope of “nonlawyer” services, liability insurance requirements, and regulatory schemes. Staff reported that the Bar’s Task Force on Access through Innovation of Legal Services contemplates similar recommendations in its upcoming report which the Board is also scheduled to consider at its March 12, 2020 meeting.
At its January 23, 2020 meeting, the Board heard from a variety of witnesses and held a longer discussion about the potential formation of a paraprofessional program. Staff presented to the Board the State Bar’s history in attempting to implement similar programs dating back to the 1990s, provided examples of other states considering similar programs, and provided a chart informing the Board of the various existing California statutes that authorize four categories of nonlawyers to provide limited legal services to the public: Business and Professions Code sections 6400-6415 (legal document assistants and unlawful detainer assistants); 22440 (immigration consultants), and 6450 (paralegals).
Staff also presented to the Board key results from the California Justice Gap Study. She defined the justice gap as “the difference between the civil legal problems [Californians] face and the resources available to resolve them.” According to the study, 55% of Californian’s experienced at least one civil legal issue within the past year; 13% of Californians experienced six or more problems, but fewer than one in three Californians sought legal help. Health, Finance, and Employment were the main legal problem types faced by Californians, regardless of income. Staff advised the Board that these results highlight a knowledge gap about legal issues. In addition, existing Legal Aid programs only fully resolving one-third of the problems presented by low-income Californians highlighting one area of the service gap. They estimated $900 million in additional funding for legal aid would be needed to fully address this gap.
The board also heard from Paula Littlewood, former Executive Director of the Washington State Bar Association (WSBA), Steve Crossland, former President of the WSBA, and President-Elect Kyle Sciuchetti, who presented to the Board about Washington’s experience implementing a Limited Licensed Legal Technician (LLLT) program. Such LLLTs obtain a license to independently practice in the family law setting, in a narrower scope than attorneys, but must inform clients to seek attorney services in matters outside of their authorized scope. The Washington officials reported that they expanded access to the LLLT program by allying with community colleges to create pathways to the LLLT profession that require an associate-level degree, experiential requirements, and examinations, and hope to expand the program to additional practice areas soon. They also did caution the Board that the startup costs for establishing a new licensing category, and separate oversight board, exceeded the licensing fees they charge LLTs.
The Board is expected to vote on a charter and appoint members to the working group at its March 12, 2020 meeting in San Francisco.