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My Opinion

Reacting to Regulation

Majority of survey respondents feel some type of paralegal regulation is needed.
By Ashley Johnson

November/December 2007 Table of Contents


On Oct. 19, 2006, the Access to Justice Act was enacted in the Province of Ontario in Canada, requiring all para­legals to be regulated. While mandatory regulation has yet to be established in the U.S., voluntary regulation flourishes in many states.

According to the latest My Opinion survey, 67.7 percent of respondents feel that paralegals working under the direct supervision of an attorney should be regulated, while only 32.3 percent feel they should not. “The only way we will be recognized as a true profession is if we are regulated in some form,” said Theresa A. Prater, a 26-year paralegal from Phoenix. 

The top reason given by respondents for establishing mandatory regulation was to set a standard (33.8 percent). In addition, survey respondents felt that mandatory regulation will distinguish the profession from other legal professionals (24.1 percent), and it will garner more respect and recognition from lawyers, courts and others in the legal profession (23.6 percent).

Billie Bacle, a 30-year paralegal from Shreveport, La., examined the issue in a different light. “Notaries in our state are already regulated and you have to pass a test to be a notary,” Bacle said. “As it is, anyone can now be a paralegal.”

When asked what form of regulation is appropriate, 43.9 percent of respondents who supported regulation said certification, 28.8 percent said licensure, 18.2 percent said registration and 7.6 percent said limited licensure. A four-year paralegal from Denver agreed with the respondents who feel paralegal registration would be the appropriate form of regulation. “I think paralegals should have to register, not [be] regulated. The legal industry is starting to let people prepare documents who are not trained in the legal profession.”

However, not all respondents agreed that mandatory regulation is a good thing. “What would be the purpose of regulating paralegals?” asked KayLani Peters, a three-year paralegal from Colorado Springs, Colo. “Every paralegal has had it drilled into them that they cannot do work independent of, or without the supervision of, the attorney. Most paralegals know the Latin phrase respondeat superior, which means let the master answer. The liability lies with the supervising attorney, not with the paralegal alone.”

According to the survey, 34.9 percent of respondents who didn’t support mandatory regulation agreed with Peters that attorneys already are responsible for the paralegals with whom they work. Additionally, 24.1 percent felt achieving and maintaining regulation requirements might be too costly, 20.5 percent felt there already are voluntary exams for those who want certification, and 16.9 percent felt regulation would put too many restrictions on the field. Lisa Hoag, a legal assistant from Boise, Idaho, agreed that regulation might be too costly. “For legal assistants located in a small private practice office, the cost of regulation could be prohibitive as Idaho is a small populated state.”

Whether respondents agreed or disagreed on mandatory paralegal regu­lation, 52.5 percent of all survey respondents felt that if regulation were established, a mixed panel of legal professionals should administer the regulatory program. Only 14.1 percent felt practicing paralegals should administer a regulatory program, and another 14.1 percent chose a court system. The two lowest results for who should administer a regulatory program were paralegal educators and a consumer agency, both with 3 percent of responses.

Despite the split on whether para­legals who work under the direct supervision of an attorney should be regulated, 87.8 percent of all respondents felt that paralegals who deliver services directly to the public, such as document preparers, should be regulated in some form. While licensure was the top choice at 58.6 percent, other options included certification (13.8 percent) and registration (12.6 percent).

Whether mandatory regulation should be established, and what type of regulation is needed, will continue to be topics of debate, but some paralegals feel that the time for a decision might be drawing near. “As the paralegal profession grows, it has become even more crucial that a system exists setting standards for paralegals,” said Isabel A. Quintana, a 10-year administrative analyst/paralegal from Glendale, Calif. “It devalues the profession to have anyone be able to call themselves a para­legal,” she added.

Survey Results

Should paralegals working under the direct supervision of an attorney be regulated?

     Yes: 67.7%

     No: 32.3%


What form of regulation is appropriate?

     Certification: 43.9%

     Licensure: 28.8%

     Registration: 18.2%

     Limited Licensure: 7.6%

     Other: 1.5%


Why should paralegals be regulated?

     Sets a standard: 33.8%

     Distinguishes the profession: 24.1%

     More respect and recognition: 23.6%

     Will lead to expanded duties and responsibilities: 15.9%

     Other: 2.6%


If regulation were established, who should administer the program?

     Mixed panel: 52.5%

     Court system: 14.1%

     Practicing paralegals: 14.1%

     Attorneys: 4.0%

     Consumer agency: 3.0%

     Paralegal educators: 3.0%

     Other: 9.1%


Total survey responses: 99



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