So You Want to Implement an Allied Legal Professional Program, Part 1

August 15, 2023

"white pawn amid blue pawns"This summer, IAALS published Allied Legal Professionals: A National Framework for Program Growth. This report summarizes discussions from last November’s convening, including best practices, discrepancies between programs, and lessons learned from states who are currently utilizing such legal service providers. A set of recommendations for states looking to implement or improve such programs emerged from the convening, covering areas such as title, roles and responsibilities, and in-court representation. 

1. Title

Titles for allied legal professionals (ALPs) should convey professionalism, clarity, and translatable meaning. An ideal title will not hint at limitations or restrictions, but instead suggest competence and proficiency. A well-chosen title reduces consumer confusion about the ALP’s role, helping them to distinguish ALPs from other legal service providers like paralegals. Avoiding terms like “limited” or “paraprofessional” in the title can help ensure it does not imply a lack of qualification or licensure. Clear titling also aids individuals with limited English proficiency by preventing misunderstandings from literal translations.

States should work together to adopt a uniform title for ALPs, increasing their recognition nationwide. While each state’s ALP program can differ, a common title helps establish ALPs as legitimate legal providers. The term “legal practitioner” is a strong contender as it projects a professional image, steers clear of limiting terms, and has similarity to established roles like “nurse practitioner.” A single, recognizable title not only benefits ALPs in marketing their services but also helps consumers understand their role and qualifications.

2. Practice Areas

States should consider not only unmet legal needs but also community income levels while shaping ALP programs. These programs should target individuals who can afford some legal services but find traditional private attorney fees unmanageable. Addressing these needs effectively can enhance legal service accessibility and affordability—especially in areas like family law and landlord-tenant disputes, where representation is often absent.

States should also contemplate allowing ALPs to handle transactional work, such as estate planning. Inclusion of transactional practice areas in ALP programs has the potential to meet overlooked legal needs, providing further accessibility and increasing the versatility of ALP services. Broadening the scope of practice will contribute to more comprehensive legal service provision and a more effective ALP program.

3. Roles and Responsibilities 

States should focus on enhancing the education and testing requirements for ALPs to ensure their ability to manage a case from inception to resolution, including full in-court representation. Instead of limiting ALP roles, they should be empowered to offer comprehensive services. This broadened scope—backed by stringent competence assurance—can help serve clients seamlessly throughout their legal matters.

Mandatory disclosures by ALPs should aim to inform consumers about the extent and limitations of an ALP’s services. However, they should not deter consumers from opting for ALP assistance. States should be mindful that the content of these disclosures is balanced and encourages utilization of ALP services, rather than pushing potential clients towards alternative limited options. Any disclosure obligation should be both informative and promote the use of ALPs.

4. Attorney Supervision 

Mandatory attorney supervision should not be the norm in ALP programs. However, if supervision is deemed necessary, it should be viewed as a spectrum of engagement rather than a rigid requirement. Among states with proposals for an ALP program, only six mandate attorney supervision—two of which included this requirement because they implemented a pilot project instead of a permanent program. Among the states with an active ALP program, none require attorney supervision and they have received very few disciplinary grievances, none of which have resulted in disciplinary action. 

The supervision model can take cues from the medical field, where physician supervision of nurse practitioners varies from state to state and task to task. In the legal context, this could range from reviewing every document and attending all in-person proceedings, to scheduled consultations. Care should be taken to avoid placing excessive responsibility on supervising attorneys, which may deter their involvement and impact the program's success.

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