Non-lawyer licensing movement gains steam with Oregon approval

German parliament's financial committee about the Wirecard case in Berlin
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  • Five states now have programs allowing legal paraprofessionals to provide limited legal services
  • But such programs, aimed at making legal services more affordable, have faced hurdles in California and Washington

(Reuters) - Oregon is the latest state to embrace regulatory changes allowing so-called legal paraprofessionals — non-lawyers who are specially trained to provide legal services in limited areas of the law.

The Oregon Supreme Court on Wednesday gave final approval to a licensed paralegal program that the Oregon State Bar has been developing since 2017. Oregon joins Washington, Utah, Arizona and Minnesota in allowing non-lawyers to provide some legal services, though Washington’s high court decided last year to stop offering new paraprofessional licenses.

Legal paraprofessionals are sometimes described as the law’s version of a nurse practitioner, providing legal services at a lower cost than a traditional lawyer. They have been promoted as a way to help states expand access to justice.

"There's a big push," said Michael Houlberg, a manager for special projects at the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS), which has advocated for such programs. "Since 2020, there have been more than 10 states that have developed proposals."

California is also considering implementing a legal paraprofessionals program, but the state bar's proposal has faced fierce opposition from many lawyers and some state lawmakers, who have raised concerns over the potential for unauthorized practice of law. State bar officials are now trying to salvage their proposal.

Oregon's paraprofessionals program enjoyed broad support from judges and the public, said state bar spokeswoman Kateri Walsh, but some practitioners initially voiced concerns. Much of that opposition dissipated once attorneys learned more about how the program would work, she said.

Other jurisdictions have reached out to the state bar to learn how it developed its program, Walsh said.

The licensed paralegal program will allow participants to provide limited legal services in family law, including divorces and custody matters, and in landlord and tenant cases. Those two areas have the greatest unmet need in Oregon, according to the state bar. The program goes into effect next July.

Licensed paralegals will be able to assist clients in filing and drafting forms; observe depositions; represent clients in settlement discussions and mediation; and prepare clients for court appearances. They cannot argue in court themselves.

“We hope that it moves the needle, but it’s not a panacea,” Walsh said of Oregon's program. “The justice issue is a tremendous challenge for our state and jurisdictions across the country."

(Sara Merken contributed reporting.)

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at