Having long been fascinated by legal professionals, but never having the wherewithal to pursue a law degree, I am changing careers and moving to Arizona where I can now legally represent clients and practice law absent a law degree or need to pass that pesky bar association exam. I will be a paraprofessional. That’s right, I will now be known as “M.J. Moye, Esq.; B.A., M.A., Para-Attorney at Law,” instead of just that “crazy writer holed up in his attic office.”
This, thanks to the Arizona Supreme Court, which last month significantly expanded the professional practice of law in the state by allowing the licensing of nonlawyers as “legal paraprofessionals.” Might just have to change my name, too, as “Better Call M.J.” just doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Better Call Saul.”
Speaking of Saul Goodman—aka Jimmy McGill—of the critically acclaimed TV crime drama series “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul,” I would imagine that the Arizona Supreme Court ruling could open up the state to all manner of shysters of his ilk. But, then again, maybe they’re already there, given that the state has a long-held reputation for laxity in regulating the profession. Naturally, I’ll adhere to the highest ethical standards in the profession and provide world-class legal representation to any reprobates willing to pay my exorbitant—ahem, I mean “competitive”—fees.
Anyhow, you’re probably more interested in the state’s legal changes than you are my grandiose plans, so here’s a brief rundown: The Aug. 27th ruling essentially eliminates the American Bar Association’s “Rule 5.4 of Rules of Professional Conduct,” by eliminating the ban on nonlawyers being able to hold economic interests in law firms and allows the sharing of legal fees between lawyers and non-lawyers. The ruling also allows for the licensing of nonlawyers as “legal paraprofessionals,” which legally lets nonlawyers provide some legal services to the public, including representation in court.
In a news release announcing the changes, the court explained that the new licensing scheme for legal paraprofessionals represents the equivalent of the creation of “nurse practitioner[s] in the medical field.” Those seeking legal paraprofessional status would need to meet education and experience requirements, pass a professional exam, and prove character and fitness for the position. Successful legal paraprofessionals would be considered affiliate members of the state bar and be “subject to the same ethical rules and discipline process as lawyers.”
Justification for the changes was provided by Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Brutinel, who said the court’s goal “is to improve access to justice and encourage innovation in the delivery of legal services. The [changes] adopted by the Court will make it possible for more people to access affordable legal services and more individuals and families to get legal help and advice. These new rules will promote business innovation in providing legal services at affordable prices.”
No word yet on what educational and experience requirements might be needed to become a legal paraprofessional, but I would assume that such would include at least a modicum of knowledge about the role of discovery and ediscovery in the law.