OCEAN CITY — At a conference dedicated to lawyers in Maryland, a group of panelists posed a critical question Thursday: Would allowing non-lawyers to perform some legal work help close the access to justice gap?
With thousands of Marylanders unable to afford legal aid and other states moving ahead, this question has become increasingly urgent. But some in the legal field are reluctant to broach the subject or see it as a threat to lawyers, said committee director Irwin Kramer of Kramer & Connolly.
“We are very pro-attorneys,” said Rina Shah, executive director of the Maryland Access to Justice Commission. “Lawyers have a lot of value. It’s about being pro-lawyers but also helping people.
At the Maryland Bar Association’s annual legal summit, the committee discussed a range of possibilities that have been considered or adopted in other states, including limiting licensing to paralegals or allowing certain types of professionals, such as debt counselors, to provide legal advice in narrow areas.
In Utah, for example, the state Supreme Court has authorized a “legal sandbox” that allows companies and organizations to test legal services that would normally be considered unauthorized legal practice.
As now, poor or middle-income people in Maryland often do not have access to legal aid because they cannot afford it.
“When you bring up this conversation, it’s always about (how) do we want to protect the consumer, we want to make sure the consumer doesn’t get hurt by having a lawyer who doesn’t represent them, but let’s just look at the reality,” Shah said. “People who are not currently represented by a lawyer, are not (at all) represented.”
Heather Beckett, a paralegal who was in the panel discussion, said the Maryland State Bar Association Paralegal Task Force It has a committee looking into the issue of limited licensing for paralegals. a a few other states It has begun offering limited licensing to paralegals, according to the American Bar Association.
Jared Gascott, an immigration attorney who runs his own firm in Baltimore, said the issue is a simple matter of supply and demand. Lawyers have been able to artificially suppress the provision of legal services—and charge higher fees—by limiting who can provide them.
Gascott also noted that attorneys in Maryland are not allowed to share legal fees with non-attorneys, and that non-attorneys cannot own or share ownership of law firms, which made it difficult for him to partner with professionals who bring important skills to society. a job.
“We stifle innovation and prevent these innovations from emerging He said in the legal field.
Participants agreed that there were difficult conversations about opening the door to non-lawyers. The group said that this issue is often met with opposition in legal circles.
“instead of To promote innovation, we as a profession said, “No, that’s not going to happen.” He said Sarah Coffee Bowes, CEO, Civil Justice, Inc. “We are crushing innovation at the expense of Marylanders and ourselves, because it will get ahead of us.”