In an effort to give Californians greater access to justice, particularly those who cannot access/afford attorneys, the State Bar has proposed a “paraprofessional” program, which would essentially allow non-lawyers to practice law in California.

As the State Bar of California puts it, “a legal paraprofessional is to a lawyer as a nurse practitioner is to a doctor: a legal paraprofessional is a licensed and regulated professional who can provide legal advice and representation within the authorized practice area in which they are licensed, with a designated scope of practice for each practice area.” These paraprofessionals have the ability to provide legal advice and may also represent parties in court on some issues within the practice area they are licensed, though they cannot represent parties in jury trials.

The practice areas eligible for a paraprofessional license are Collateral Criminal, Consumer Debt/General Civil, Income maintenance, Family Law, and Housing.

To be licensed to practice family law, a paraprofessional will have to complete educational, practical training, and testing requirements, as well as receive a favorable moral character determination. They will also be required to complete continuing legal education and required to report about the fees to be charged to their clients.

So why would a client pay for a lawyer when they can pay less for a paraprofessional? What are the distinguishing factors between the two? For starters, paraprofessionals are limited in scope within the practice area they are licensed. By way of example, a paraprofessional licensed in Family, Children, and Custody, is authorized to, among other things, assist in domestic violence prevention, but cannot represent a client in a domestic violence hearing involving children, and cannot introduce or cross-examine expert witnesses in hearings. In family law matters, a paraprofessional is also not authorized to participate in various forms of discovery, which are often necessary to partake in to settle a family law dispute. These are just a few of the instances where the gap between paraprofessional and lawyer are not met.

The State Bar is currently gathering public comment on the proposal for such a program before submitting the final proposal to the Board of Trustees. Should the Board approve the program, it will go to the California Supreme Court and the State Legislature for their review and approval.

While it is unknown how this program will affect the practice of law in California, there is much hesitation, nonetheless. Many attorneys have spoken out against the proposal for various reasons. To read the final report on this program, please go to: