No law degree? No problem. How you can now represent clients in Arizona

Feb 12, 2021, 4:45 AM
(AP Photo)...
(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

PHOENIX — Anyone can now become a legal paraprofessional and represent clients in Arizona courts.

The Arizona Supreme Court earlier this year sanctioned paraprofessionals who could provide more affordable legal representation.

Paraprofessionals can act for clients in misdemeanor cases with no possibility of jail time, or in family and small claims courts.

“Millions of people across the country have no access to civil justice in our system because they cannot afford a lawyer,” Vice Chief Justice Anne Timmer said.

Timmer believes more affordable paraprofessionals can reduce burdens on lawyers who look for more profitable cases to stay in business.

“Lawyers would have to provide an additional 900 pro bono hours each — each year — to assist all households,” Timmer said, citing a study from the American Bar Association.

“That’s not going to happen.”

Monica Lindstrom, legal expert for KTAR News 92.3 FM, explained there are concerns this cheapens the law profession in terms of cost and value.

“Allowing those to practice law without the necessary education is actually doing a disservice to the community and hurts justice, according to some,” Lindstrom said, adding lawyers fear clients won’t get adequate legal representation.

The state Supreme Court licenses and regulates legal paraprofessionals. Timmer says they could get bachelor’s degrees in arts and law — like the University of Arizona offers — or take the experiential route.

“A lot of paralegals work for family law firms right now. They have years of experience and know what they’re doing,” Timmer said. “Then, they could take a test to prove that they have the qualifications.”

The vice chief justice hopes the testing process will weed out those unqualified, adding legal paraprofessionals face the same discipline as lawyers who break laws or ethics rules. This includes suspension, loss of license or probation under another attorney.

Non-lawyers can also own Arizona law firms for the first time, which could allow investors into firms to cut costs for themselves and their clients.

It’s a change Lindstrom says some attorneys find troubling.

“What if a non-lawyer investor violates a rule?” Lindstrom asked. “Will that result in attorneys losing their licenses? This is a real question that worries attorneys.

“An attorney must always accept a client’s decision when it comes to a settlement. When you introduce a non-regulated non-lawyer into the mix, does the interests of the firm in maximizing profit trump what the client wants?”

Timmer says legal ethics rules and laws still apply across the board.

She insists the changes are no different than changes to medical practices in recent decades, where non-doctors like physician assistants and nurse practitioners can treat patients, prescribe medications and work in hospitals that they don’t own.

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No law degree? No problem. How you can now represent clients in Arizona