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Paralegal Regulation in the United States

A look at paralegal certification activities and legislation across the nation.

Compiled by Patrick Vuong

(Originally appeared in print as "Regulation Roll Call")

March/April 2006 Table of Contents

 

Like dropping a match in a field of dry grass, adding regulation to the paralegal field often sparks a wildfire of controversy. Both proponents and opponents have valid arguments for or against the standardization of the profession.

Some paralegals and legislators want mandatory licensure of the profession, saying it would assure that clients receive services from only qualified, trained professionals, and it would help distinguish paralegals from legal secretaries and other administrators. But opponents argue regulation is unnecessary because unauthorized practice of law statutes provide sufficient safeguards and already define what a paralegal can and can’t do.

The American Bar Association adopted this definition of paralegals in 1997: “A legal assistant or paralegal is a person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.”

Information in this article was supplied by paralegal organizations, bar associations and lawmakers from national, state and local levels. The information was current as of press time. For the latest information, contact your local paralegal organization, bar association or legislator.

 

(Note: Paralegal definitions and rulings by bar associations and paralegal divisions are not included in this story, but will be featured in a future article.)

 

Alabama

Alabama Code Section 6-5-572 includes legal assistants and paralegals in its definition of a legal service provider, which is anyone “engaged in the practice of law.” (www.legislature.state.al.us/codeofalabama/1975/coatoc.htm)

Alaska

Alaska Rule of Professional Conduct 5.3 doesn’t define paralegals but considers “paraprofessionals” as nonlawyer assistants. The rule states that lawyers must directly supervise their assistants and are responsible for their assistants’ conduct. (www.state.ak.us/courts/prof.htm#5.3)

Arizona

Effective July 1, 2003, anyone preparing legal paperwork without an attorney’s supervision must be certified as a legal document preparer pursuant to the Arizona Code of Judicial Administration Section 7-208. Legal document preparers can provide general legal information but can’t give legal advice. Paralegals can receive a legal document preparer’s certification if they already have earned a paralegal certificate from an ABA-approved program or a non-ABA-approved, accredited institution with a minimum of 24 completed semester units in legal specialization courses. (www.supreme.state.az.us/orders/ admcode/ pdfcurrentcode/7-208%20section2.pdf)

Arkansas

Arkansas Rule of Professional Conduct 5.3 doesn’t define paralegals but considers “paraprofessionals” as nonlawyer assistants. The rule states that lawyers must directly supervise their assistants and are responsible for their assistants’ conduct. (http://courts.state.ar.us/rules/current_ark_prof_conduct/index.cfm l)

California

Signed into law in 2000 and effective in 2001, the California Business and Professions Code Section 6450-6456 defines a paralegal as someone who is qualified by education, training or work experience and performs substantial legal work under the supervision of an active member of the state bar. The code also defines a paralegal’s duties, states minimum educational standards and continuing legal education requirements, and sets fines and jail time for anyone who violates the law. For more information, go to www.leginfo.ca.gov. Also, the voluntary California Advanced Specialty certification program was created in 1994 through an agreement between the National Association of Legal Assistants and the California Alliance of Paralegal Associations. It’s suspended until late 2006, when it will return as a Web-based program.

Colorado

Colorado Rule of Professional Conduct 5.3 doesn’t define paralegals but considers “paraprofessionals” as nonlawyer assistants. The rule states that lawyers must directly supervise their assistants and are responsible for their assistants’ conduct. (www.coloradosupremecourt.com/regulation/Rules/ appendix20/statdspp0b99.html)

Connecticut

Connecticut Rule of Professional Conduct 5.3 doesn’t define paralegals but considers “paraprofessionals” as nonlawyer assistants. The rule states that lawyers must directly supervise their assistants and are responsible for their assistants’ conduct. (www.jud.ct.gov/Publications/PracticeBook/PB1.pdf)

Delaware

Although the state doesn’t regulate paralegals, the Delaware Paralegal Association in 2005 approved voluntary certification, which establishes minimum educational standards. Certified members must follow the DPA’s ethics code and renew certification status every two years. (www.deparalegals.org/dcpp.php)

Florida

At press time, the Florida Bar Board of Governors opposed two bills to license paralegals, saying more studying is needed. (See “Florida Regulation” on Page 34 of this issue.) Rep. Juan Zapata, R-Miami, filed House Bill 395 after his previous legislation died in committee in 2005. The bill aims to establish the Paralegal Professional Act, which would set educational requirements, an ethics code and other rules. It and a companion senate bill will be discussed during legislative sessions in March. A state bar special committee also will meet in March to discuss regulation options. In 1980, the Paralegal Association of Florida Inc. established the voluntary Certified Florida Legal Assistant program and began administering the CFLA exam in 1983.

Georgia

There are no regulation activities reported.

Hawaii

In 2001, the Hawaii State Bar Association rejected a mandatory paralegal certification proposal by its Task Force on Paralegal Certification. The proposal attempted to impose a degree of regulation on paralegal use and would have required certification of legal assistants in the state. The next year, the state Supreme Court also declined to approve paralegal certification. There are no new regulation activities reported.

Idaho

Idaho Rule of Professional Conduct 5.3 doesn’t define paralegals but considers “paraprofessionals” as nonlawyer assistants. The rule states that lawyers must directly supervise their assistants and are responsible for their assistants’ conduct. (http://www2.state.id.us/isb/pdf/irpc.pdf)

Illinois

In 2005, two state initiatives to monitor nonattorney legal service providers failed. Illinois statutes define a paralegal as “a person who is qualified through education, training or work experience, and is employed by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency or other entity to work under the direction of an attorney in a capacity that involves the performance of substantive legal work that usually requires a sufficient knowledge of legal concepts and would be performed by the attorney in the absence of the paralegal.” (www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs2.asp?chapterid=2 under “Statute on Statutes”)

Indiana

After more than two years, an Indiana Supreme Court committee will accept comments through April 3 on its planned voluntary paralegal registration before submitting the proposal to the Supreme Court. The proposal defines paralegals, establishes educational requirements and bans disbarred attorneys, felons and those convicted of UPL from registering. (See “Indiana Regulation a Reality?” on Page 24 of this issue.)

Iowa

Iowa Rule of Professional Conduct 32:5.3 doesn’t define paralegals but considers “paraprofessionals” as nonlawyer assistants. The rule states lawyers must directly supervise their assistants and are responsible for their assistants’ conduct. (www.legis.state.ia.us/rules/current/court/courtrules.pdf)

Kansas

Kansas Supreme Court Rule 5.3 doesn’t define paralegals but considers “paraprofessionals” as nonlawyer assistants. The rule states that lawyers must directly supervise their assistants and are responsible for their assistants’ conduct. (http://www.kscourts.org/ctruls/rule5.htm#5.3)

Kentucky

Reportedly the first to address paralegal utilization, the Kentucky Supreme Court in 1979 established Rule 3.700, which defines a paralegal, prohibits UPL and includes other rules such as allowing a paralegal’s name on attorney letterhead as long as the “paralegal’s status is clearly indicated.” Also, the Kentucky Paralegal Association currently is developing a statewide voluntary paralegal certification exam and study guide. (http://kybar.org/documents/scr/scr3/scr_3.700.pdf)

Louisiana

The Louisiana State Paralegal Association established a voluntary certification exam in 1996 to set professional standards and promote recognition of the profession. (www.la-paralegals.org)

Maine

In 1999, the governor signed into law a bill that includes a definition of a “legal assistant” and “paralegal,” based on the ABA definition. Violators of this law are subject to a fine of up to $1,000.
 (http://janus.state.me.us/legis/statutes/4/title4sec921.html)

Maryland

In 2005, the state’s rules committee submitted to the Maryland Court of Appeals amendments to Rule 5.3 to allow disbarred, suspended or inactive attorneys to work as paralegals under certain circumstances, such as working in an office under the supervision of a full-time lawyer who has been in good standing with the state bar for at least five years.
(www.courts.state.md.us/rules/ruleschanges.html#rule16760)

Massachusetts

Amended in 2002, Massachusetts Rule of Professional Conduct 5.3 doesn’t define paralegals but considers “paraprofessionals” as nonlawyer assistants. The rule states that lawyers must directly supervise their assistants and are responsible for their assistants’ conduct. (www.mass.gov/obcbbo/rpc5.htm)

Michigan

Michigan Rule of Professional Conduct 5.3 doesn’t define paralegals but considers “paraprofessionals” as nonlawyer assistants. The rule states that lawyers must directly supervise their assistants and are responsible for their assistants’ conduct. (www.michbar.org/generalinfo/pdfs/mrpc.pdf)

Minnesota

In 1994, the Minnesota Legislature appointed a special committee to consider paralegal licensure procedures, but the regulation movement never progressed. There are no new regulation activities reported.

Mississippi

Effective in 1987, Mississippi Rule of Professional Conduct 5.3 doesn’t define paralegals, but states that lawyers must directly supervise their assistants and are responsible for their assistants’ conduct.
(www.mslawyer.com/mssc/profcond.html)

Missouri

Adopted in 1993 and effective in 1995, Missouri Supreme Court Rule 4-5.3 includes “paraprofessionals” in its definition of nonlawyer assistants. Attorneys must directly supervise their assistants and are responsible for their assistants’ conduct, according to the rule.
(www.courts.mo.gov/courts/clerkhandbooksp2rulesonly.nsf/ supreme%20court%20rules?openview)

Montana

Amended in 2001, Montana Code Section 37-60-101 defines a paralegal or legal assistant as a person, qualified through education, training or work experience, who performs substantive legal work while employed or retained by a lawyer, firm or other entities. (http://data.opi.state.mt.us/bills/mca/37/60/37-60-101.htm)

Nebraska

Effective September 2005, the Nebraska Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 5.3 defines “support person” and “paraprofessionals” in its definition of nonlawyer assistants. The rule states attorneys must supervise their assistants and are responsible for their assistants’ conduct.
(http://court.nol.org/rules/RulesProfConduct.34.pdf)

Nevada

Effective in 1986, Nevada Supreme Court Rule 187 doesn’t define paralegals, but states that lawyers must directly supervise their assistants and are responsible for their assistants’ conduct. (http://www.leg.state.nv.us/courtrules/scr.html)

New Hampshire

The New Hampshire Supreme Court Administrative Rule 35 defines a paralegal as a person not admitted to the practice of law in the state who is under the direct supervision of an active member of the New Hampshire State Bar. (www.courts.state.nh.us/rules/scr/scr-35.htm)

New Jersey

In 1999, the New Jersey Supreme Court denied a proposal from its special committee calling for the mandatory licensing of paralegals, but encouraged the local associations to look into the development of a credentialing system. The New Jersey State Bar Association Committee on Paralegals currently is working on a registration system for paralegals. Previous attempts to register paralegals have stalled.

New Mexico

The state Supreme Court in January 2004 amended its rules to include a new definition stating that paralegals are highly trained support staff who engage in substantive legal work. The amendments also establish minimum standards for calling oneself a “paralegal” and discourage using the title “paralegal” by those not qualified and by attorneys disbarred or suspended from practicing law. (www.nmlaws.org)

New York

There are no regulation activities reported.

North Carolina

The Supreme Court of North Carolina approved the voluntary certification of paralegals in October 2004. The North Carolina State Bar Board of Paralegal Certification began accepting applications on July 1, 2005. To qualify, paralegals must fulfill educational and work experience requirements. (www.nccertifiedparalegal.org)

North Dakota

Both the North Dakota Century Code and the North Dakota Rules of Professional Conduct have rules defining a legal assistant as someone who works under the direct supervision of a licensed lawyer and whose work product is the complete responsibility of the attorney. (www.ndcourts.com/court/rules/conduct/rule5.3.htm)

Ohio

The state’s five paralegal associations are helping the Ohio State Bar Association’s Paralegal Committee formulate a proposal for a voluntary certification program, according to the Paralegal Association of Northwest Ohio. No timetable has been set.

Oklahoma

In the 1994 Taylor v. Chubb case, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that charges for legal assistants should be included by courts in attorney fee award decisions. The court’s paralegal definition is based on the one established by the ABA, and lists paralegal duties such as interviewing clients, drafting pleadings and performing legal research.

Oregon

There are no regulation activities reported.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Section 2524(a) of Title 42 states paralegals and legal assistants can’t deliver legal services without attorney supervision and can’t present themselves as people entitled to practice law. The law was passed in 1996 in response to widespread concern that it was misleading to potential clients for people using the terms “paralegal” and “legal assistant” in ads.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island Supreme Court Provisional Order No. 18 was established in 1983 and defines a legal assistant as: “one who under the supervision of a lawyer, shall apply knowledge of the law and legal procedures in rendering direct assistance to lawyers, clients and courts; design, develop and modify procedures, techniques, services and processes; prepare and interpret legal documents; detail procedures for practicing in certain fields of law; research, select, access and compile information from the law library and other references; and analyze and handle procedural problems that involve independent decisions.” For more information, call the Supreme Court Clerk’s Office at (401) 222-3272.

South Carolina

Rule 5.3 of the Supreme Court of South Carolina Rules of Conduct doesn’t define paralegals but considers “paraprofessionals” as nonlawyer assistants. The rule states that lawyers must directly supervise their assistants and are responsible for their assistants’ conduct. (www.judicial.state.sc.us/courtreg/listapprules.cfm)

South Dakota

The Legal Assistants Committee of the State Bar of South Dakota is lobbying to replace the term “legal assistant” with “paralegal” in state statutes and to tighten the qualifications on who can be called a paralegal. South Dakota Supreme Court Rule 97-25 defines legal assistants as a distinguishable group that assists attorneys and has expertise regarding the legal system, substantive and procedural law, the ethical considerations of the legal profession and state rules, which qualify them to do work of a legal nature under the direct supervision of a licensed attorney.
(http://legis.state.sd.us/statutes/displaystatute.aspx? type=statute& statute=16-18-34)

Tennessee

According to the Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 5.3, effective in 1981, a lawyer should give “nonlawyer assistants” and “paraprofessionals” appropriate instruction and supervision “concerning the ethical aspects of their employment, particularly regarding the obligation not to disclose information relating to representation of the client, and should be responsible for their work product.”
(www.tsc.state.tn.us/opinions/tsc/rules/tnrulesofcourt/06supct1_9.htm)

Texas

Established in 1974 by the state Supreme Court, the Texas Board of Legal Specialization offers voluntary specialty certification for attorneys and legal assistants. Legal assistants can become certified in six different specialty areas of law, each requiring an exam and a minimum amount of experience, education and CLE. (www.tbls.org)

Utah

Amended in March 2005, the Utah Supreme Court Rule of Professional Conduct 5.3 states that paralegals work under the ultimate supervision of attorneys, who are responsible for their paralegals’ work product and must give appropriate instruction concerning the ethical aspects of their employment, particularly regarding the obligation not to disclose information relating to representation of the client. (www.utcourts.gov/resources/rules/ucja/13_proco/5_3.htm)

Vermont

Vermont Rule of Professional Conduct 5.3 doesn’t define paralegals, but states that lawyers must directly supervise their assistants and are responsible for their assistants’ conduct.
(www.vermontjudiciary.org/committes/prbrules/vtpcframespage.htm)

Virginia

Amended in 2004, Virginia Supreme Court Rule 5.3 doesn’t define paralegals but states that lawyers must directly supervise their assistants and are responsible for their assistants’ conduct.
(www.courts.state.va.us/scv/amendments/rule3_5_rule5_3_092603.pdf)

Washington

In December 2005, the Washington State Practice of Law Board drafted a regulation proposal, which the bar’s Board of Governors will consider in early 2006. If the board approves the draft, it will be submitted to the state Supreme Court for consideration. The proposal includes a definition, certification and educational requirements.(www.wsba.org/lawyers/groups/practiceoflaw/default.htm)

West Virginia

West Virginia Professional Conduct Rule 5.3 states that lawyers must directly supervise their assistants and are responsible for their assistants’ conduct. (www.wvbar.org/barinfo/rulesprofconduct/rules5.htm)

Wisconsin

The Wisconsin State Bar’s Paralegal Practice Task Force petitioned the state Supreme Court in 2004 to regulate paralegals and is awaiting a decision or additional hearing. The proposal includes a definition of a paralegal, educational requirements and an ethics policy.
(www.wisbar.org/committees/ptf/definitions.html)

Wyoming

Wyoming Rule of Professional Conduct 5.3 doesn’t define paralegals but considers “paraprofessionals” as nonlawyer assistants. The rule states lawyers must directly supervise their assistants and are responsible for their assistants’ conduct.

 

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