Up and down the income scale, the legal needs of Americans are going unmet. The inability to afford a lawyer, among other factors, has led to ballooning rates of self-representation in our justice system, with over 70 percent of civil and family cases including a party without a lawyer. People in these situations are not only facing life-altering challenges alone—like child custody hearings or landlord/tenant issues—they also face disproportionately bad outcomes in their cases. Allied legal professionals hold a key to bringing more accessible and affordable legal help where it is needed most. Like nurse practitioners, research on allied legal professionals is beginning to show great potential for lower-cost, excellent public service—and IAALS’ Allied Legal Professionals project is working to standardize and grow these successful programs nationwide.
- To broaden understanding of the existing and proposed legal paraprofessional programs across the United States and in other countries, and the relative advantages and challenges that exist within them.
- To develop a national model for allied legal paraprofessionals based on best practices and research, which can be implemented in states across the country.
To hire a lawyer when faced with legal issues, most people either need considerable money or have so little money that they qualify for the limited legal aid available. The majority of people reside in the middle and are left out of the equation—what some call "The Missing Middle."
Enter: allied legal professionals.
While this new tier of legal services providers is spreading quickly across the country, these professionals have provided quality, ethical legal services for over a decade in certain places. Research shows that these licensed and regulated professionals who are not lawyers can represent clients as well as or better than lawyers in the limited matters they handle.
Further, research from IAALS’ Cases Without Counsel study suggests that people who need legal help are open to receiving it from qualified and authorized providers who are not lawyers:
“It’s better to have someone that at least has some working knowledge of the system than trying to navigate it alone when you know nothing.”
“When you’re going through it, honestly, at that point, anybody—whether they’re a lawyer or not—if they’re qualified to give you that advice, you would appreciate it.”
IAALS’ Allied Legal Professionals project will establish national best-practice thinking around allied legal professionals programs by:
- Analyzing existing and proposed programs, the limited empirical research available, and similar experiences and programs from other countries and other professions (like nurse practitioners);
- Creating a framework for evaluating the relative advantages and challenges in the different models that exist;
- Convening diverse leaders and stakeholders to review the data and experiences, and establish recommendations and best practices; and
- Building a model for states to follow when considering and establishing allied legal professional programs in the future.
Through this project, we intend to help standardize a new tier of legal professionals, which has the potential of increasing the number of people who can receive legal help. By promoting the need for and benefits of allied legal professionals—and by encouraging their growth and increased membership—we can make strides to close the justice gaps in our society.
November 2022: This convening will provide a venue for experts and national partners to develop recommendations and best practices for states developing allied legal professional programs. After the convening, IAALS will publish and disseminate the results as well as a framework for a new national model for allied legal professionals based on best practices. More information available here.