Why paraprofessionals? Why now?
Since the late 1980s, the State Bar has considered the idea of licensing nonlawyers to provide limited legal services to the public.
This idea has often been proposed to address the longstanding gap between Californians’ need for civil legal services and the availability of those services.
In 2019, the California Justice Gap Study: Measuring the Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Californians, revealed the widespread scope of the problem.
Californians at all income levels reported receiving no legal help, or inadequate legal help, for 85 percent of their civil legal problems, the study found. People cited reasons such as:
- They were unsure if the problem was in fact a legal issue.
- They decided to deal with the problem without help.
- They were worried about the cost.
- They did not know where to look for help.
- They were afraid to pursue legal action.
Since the study, the State Bar has undertaken efforts to reduce the justice gap, including forming the Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Legal Services and the Closing the Justice Gap Working Group.
After also looking at how other states and countries have responded to the problem of access to legal services, the State Bar concluded that a thoughtfully designed and appropriately regulated legal paraprofessional program could be an important component of the solution in California.
In March 2020, the State Bar Board of Trustees tasked a working group with developing a proposal to license a new group of legal practitioners.
The working group membership included consumers, legal services organizations, judges, law schools, and practicing attorneys.
They developed the first comprehensive proposal for a new licensing program as well as a proposed set of rules of paraprofessional conduct and sanctions for violations.