Education, Training & Testing: The Steps to Becoming an Allied Legal Professional
In 2012, Washington became the first state to implement an allied legal professional (ALP) program, which allows people other than attorneys—who Washington calls Limited License Legal Technicians (LLLTs)—to provide limited scope legal representation in family law. This program was designed to serve people who could not afford an attorney and also did not qualify for legal aid.
While Washington’s program was sunset in 2020, its continuing successes have helped inspire more states to create similar programs with expanded practice areas. Utah and Arizona have active ALP programs, Oregon and Colorado have ALP programs approved by their state supreme courts with implementation beginning soon, and Minnesota and New Hampshire have active pilot projects to determine whether their states should implement permanent ALP programs. As these programs spread and become more popular across the country, concerns from the legal community—particularly from attorneys—are growing as well.
One of the main concerns is that these new professionals will not be competent to legally represent others. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, a New Jersey family law attorney compared ALPs to landscapers trying to do brain surgery. But while brain surgeons aren’t the only ones in the operating room, we do agree that it would be unwise to have an untrained “landscaper” provide legal representation due to the complicated nature of the legal system. Unfortunately, this is already the reality. The majority of the public are the landscapers because millions of people are forced to represent themselves without legal help due to high attorney costs. ALP programs, on the other hand, provide an avenue for these millions of people to receive legal representation—and to receive it from someone with extensive legal knowledge and experience.
Each state with an ALP program has its own unique qualifications to become licensed, but one thing all programs share is that the requirements are robust. In Utah’s ALP program, their Licensed Paralegal Practitioners (LPPs) must fulfill one of five educational pathways involving a degree or certification in legal/paralegal studies, additional education in the area of practice the LPP wishes to provide representation, and 1,500 hours of substantive law-related experience with some of that experience needing to be in the practice area the LPP wishes to provide representation. LPPs must also pass a practice area-specific exam and a professional ethics exam.
Similarly, in Arizona’s ALP program, their Legal Paraprofessionals (LPs) must obtain one of a number of degrees or certifications in legal/paralegals studies, take additional practice area-specific courses, and fulfill 120 hours of substantive law-related experience with some of that experience needing to be in the practice area the LP wishes to provide representation. LPs must also pass a substantive law exam in the area they wish to practice and a core exam that tests on legal terminology, data gathering, document preparation, ethical responsibilities, etc. Due to the extent of the practice area-specific requirements in ALP programs, most newly licensed ALPs have more specialized education and training in areas like family law than newly licensed attorneys.
Apart from the licensure requirements—which demonstrate that these professionals are extensively trained to provide legal representation—the data on consumer protection confirms that these professionals are adequately trained and competent to handle the legal tasks they have been permitted to perform. In the 11 years that Washington’s program has existed, there have been a total of six disciplinary grievances received, four of which were resolved and none of which resulted in disciplinary action. In 2021 alone, there were three grievances received on behalf of the 66 active LLLTs, which is the same percentage of grievances received that year on behalf of attorneys. In the five years that Utah’s program has existed, there have not been any disciplinary grievances received. Knowing, though, that there will ultimately be some grievances filed against ALPs, just as there are against attorneys, ALPs are regulated in the same manner as attorneys so that any grievances can be heard and actions can be taken, if need be.
The main goal of ALP programs is to help close the access to justice gap. From education, training, and testing requirements to a disciplinary system designed to ensure integrity of the profession, every step in the creation of these programs has been taken with consumer protection in mind. Allied legal professionals are not your local landscapers reaching beyond their qualifications, but instead are trained and dedicated professionals providing limited legal services to a population of people that attorneys aren’t serving and that for too long has been forced to represent themselves.