For many occupations, including lawyers, it is the state government that sets mandatory licensure requirements. It stands to reason, then, that different states might make different rules and regulations when it comes to what it takes to be a paralegal. As a paraprofessional position, paralegal is a role that, by definition, is not fully licensed to practice law but instead performs certain tasks involved in legal work as delegated by an attorney. While this means that most states don’t require paralegals to be licensed, some states have adopted regulations that apply to paralegals specifically or to non-lawyer roles in the legal industry.
The State With the Strictest Requirements for Paralegals
For the most part, paralegals don’t have to meet any state licensing requirements, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. Professional certification, offered through numerous professional organizations at the national and regional levels, is voluntary, according to the BLS. However, since state governments aren’t restricted from establishing their own rules, a few states have chosen to regulate this and related occupations more closely.
Just one state in the U.S. officially regulates paralegals, the American Bar Association reported: California. Under the California Business and Professions Code, language established in 2000 sets certain requirements for workers using the job title “paralegal,” as well as “contract paralegal,” “independent paralegal,” “freelance paralegal,” “attorney assistant” and “legal assistant.” These rules prohibit paralegals from engaging in certain activities, including giving legal advice and representing clients in a court of law.
They also set minimum education and experience requirements as well as establishing mandatory continuing education requirements.
States Where Non-Lawyer Legal Workers May Be Licensed
In two states, Washington and Utah, some form of licensing exists for paralegals and other non-attorney roles in the legal field, according to the American Bar Association. That doesn’t mean that all paralegals in these states must be licensed. Rather, these designations allow highly educated and experienced paralegals to become credentialed to perform a broader scope of legal work.
Washington State created a new type of legal license in 2012. The Limited License Legal Technician, or LLLT, is a licensed paraprofessional position that bridges the gap between traditional paralegal roles and attorneys in certain specialties of law. The position was created to expand access to legal services in the area of family law, although the state is expected to approve LLLT roles in other areas of practice in the future. LLLTs have a more extensive scope of practice than paralegals and are permitted to practice independently – without a lawyer – and to provide legal advice, the Washington State Bar Association reported.
Utah followed in Washington’s footsteps in 2018 when it established the “Licensed Paralegal Practitioner” (LPP) designation. By becoming a Licensed Paralegal Practitioner, paralegals can expand their scope of practice independent of attorney supervision and launch their own firms. They can give legal advice and conduct and mediation negotiations, but they are not permitted to represent a client in court. Currently, LPPs may only become licensed in specific legal areas such as debt collection and certain types of family law practice.
The American Bar Association Journal reported that 80 percent of residents in many states can’t afford an attorney for civil legal matters. Cost is one of the biggest driving factors for the creation of designations like Washington’s LLLT and Utah’s LPP.
Preparing for Paralegal Roles in States With More Regulation
If you plan to work in a paralegal, legal assistant or licensed paraprofessional role in one of these states where the rules are more robust, you may benefit by choosing an in-state school. Among the requirements to work in paralegal and similar roles in these states are often more specific educational requirements.
In Washington, aspiring Limited License Legal Technicians must complete a 45-credit LLLT Core Curriculum offered through an approved school, according to the Washington State Bar Association. All but one of the approved colleges are located in Washington, with one located in nearby Oregon. Paralegal studies programs that align with the curriculum for LLLT certification typically include classes in law and legal practice, legal research, legal writing, investigation, civil procedure and litigation. Students often study practice areas such as business law, contract law and other litigation specialties.
Earning a paralegal certificate out of state may still permit you to work as a paralegal in these areas, but your education most likely won’t match up to the more extensive requirements for LLLT or LPP credentials.