California Paraprofessional Program Resource Page

Background

In 2019, the State Bar published the California Justice Gap Study: Measuring the Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Californians, which found that 55 percent of Californians experience at least one civil legal problem in their household each year, and that Californians received no or inadequate legal help for 85 percent of these problems.  The State Bar’s Board of Trustees subsequently directed formation of the California Paraprofessional Program Working Group, charged with developing recommendations for the creation of a paraprofessional licensure and certification program, including potential changes to rules and statutes governing the unauthorized practice of law to allow paraprofessionals to provide legal advice and representation.  The Working Group expects to present its recommendations and full package of rule and statutory changes to the State Bar Board of Trustees in late September 2021.  The recommendations would then go out for public comment before coming back to the Board of Trustees for final approval.  The California Supreme Court and Legislature would ultimately need to approve various aspects of the paraprofessional program, including changes to existing rules and statutes, before the program could be launched.

CLA Involvement

CLA has been actively engaged with this process since the formative stages, when the State Bar was considering the idea of licensed paraprofessionals, but before the Working Group was created.  CLA urged caution prior to implementing any changes, and expressed concerns that if the appropriate balance is not struck, permitting nonlawyers to provide legal advice or services may result in greater harm than good for consumers.  The State Bar ultimately created the Working Group, which includes a CLA representative.  We have been actively involved with the Working Group from the outset, making efforts to help shape any paraprofessional program – assuming such a program moves forward – to appropriately balance all of the relevant concerns.

Working Group Process

The meetings of the working groups are open to the public and provide opportunities for public comments.  A list of upcoming meetings is available here.  You can subscribe to the California Paraprofessional Program Working Group email list to receive meeting notifications here.

The Working Group created subcommittees in the following areas:

  • Licensing Subcommittee
  • Regulation Subcommittee
  • Discipline Subcommittee
  • Collateral Criminal Subcommittee
  • Consumer Debt and General Civil Subcommittees
  • Employment and Income Maintenance Subcommittee
  • Family Law Subcommittee
  • Health Subcommittee
  • Housing Subcommittee
  • Pilot Implementation Subcommittee

The subcommittees have presented recommendations to the full Working Group for the Working Group’s adoption.

Working Group Recommendations

The Final Report and Recommendations of the California Paraprofessional Program Working Group, as transmitted to the State Bar Board of Trustees, is available here.

The following is a summary of key Working Group recommendations adopted in each of the subcommittee areas:

Licensing

The Working Group recommendations include the following:

  • Educational Requirements
    For all practice areas:
    • 3 credit hours Ethics and Professional Responsibility, including practice management and recognition and elimination of bias in the legal profession
    • 3 credit hours Pretrial Discovery and Evidence [practical and not theoretical]
    • 3 credit hours Court Procedure
    • 3 credit hours Court Advocacy
    • 1 unit trauma-informed representation
      Additional subject matter specific credits for each practice area
  • Practical Training (Experiential)
    Requirements for Students
    • 1,000 hours over a minimum of 6 months
    • 500 hours must be in practice area in which paraprofessional will be licensed
    • Must include trauma-informed training

    Each Practice Area Subcommittee will identify specific requirements
  • Testing
    • Subject matter specific testing
    • Professional Responsibility Exam modeled after attorney exam
  • Moral Character and Background Check
    • Fingerprinting and background check equivalent attorney requirements
    • Not disbarred or resigned with charges pending in any jurisdiction
    • Moral character determination requirements to mirror attorney requirements

Regulation

The Working Group recommendations include the following:

  • Financial responsibility requirements
    • Paraprofessionals must maintain a surety bond in an amount of $100,000;
      • Practice area subcommittees may recommend a lower amount be required
      • The total amount of the required bond may not exceed $100,000
    • Paraprofessionals must contribute to a Client Security Fund (CSF), to be established with rules that mirror those of the attorney CSF.
  • Minimum continuing legal education (MCLE) requirements:
    • 36 hours every 3 years, as follows:
      • 28 hours in the paraprofessional’s practice areas
      • 4 hours on legal ethics
      • 1 hour on competence issues
      • 1 hour on recognition and elimination of bias in the legal profession and society
      • 1 hour of trauma-informed practice
      • 1 hour of practice management/running a business
    • Each practice area subcommittee may require that the above MCLE include specific topics relevant to the paraprofessional’s practice area to be included in the final MCLE regulation proposal

Discipline

The Working Group adopted the following recommendations:

  • The discipline model as outlined on page 2 of the February 26, 2021 memo from the Discipline Subcommittee, with appeals to be heard by the Paraprofessional Licensing Board.
  • The alternatives to discipline model as outlined on page 5 of the February 26, 2021 memo from the Discipline Subcommittee
  • The public records determinations as outlined on page 6 of the February 26, 2021 memo from the Discipline Subcommittee, except that Public Reproval should be converted to an anonymous report after ten years.

Collateral Criminal

The Working Group recommends that the following subtopics and tasks under the Collateral Criminal practice area be included in a paraprofessional program:

  • Record Clearance Tasks, as specified in greater detail under the August 25, 2020 meeting here
  • Infraction Tasks, as specified in greater detail under the August 25, 2020 meeting here

Consumer Debt and General Civil

The Working Group recommends that paraprofessionals may represent individual debtors in limited jurisdiction consumer debt proceedings except for:

  • Responding to or preparing dispositive motions including anti-SLAPP motions and motions for summary judgment;
  • Participating in trial setting or pretrial conferences
  • Representing clients in trials, both jury and bench trials.

The Working Group recommends that the following creditor harassment activities be included and excluded from the paraprofessional program:

  • Included:
    • Prelitigation cease and desist and prove-up letters
    • Prelitigation negotiation of settlements, including payment plans
  • Excluded:
    • All superior court litigation

The Working Group recommends that paraprofessionals may represent natural persons in enforcement of small claims court judgments, and natural persons in limited jurisdiction post-judgment enforcement proceedings.


Employment and Income Maintenance

The Working Group recommends that paraprofessionals be authorized to provide full scope representation at the state administrative agency level in the following proceedings:

  • Wage and hour proceedings, Division of Labor Standards Enforcement
  • Unemployment insurance proceedings, Employment Development Department
  • All proceedings relating to public benefits

The Working Group recommends that paraprofessionals be authorized to represent claimants in the enforcement of Division of Labor Standards Enforcement wage and hour judgments in limited jurisdiction superior court proceedings.


Family Law

The Working Group recommends that paraprofessionals be authorized to provide representation in family law matters, including but not limited to the tasks delineated in Attachment B to the April 19, 2021 memo from the Family Law Subcommittee, with the following exceptions:

  • Nullity matters
    • Petitions based on incest, unsound mind, fraud, force, physical incapacity
    • Putative spouse establishment
    • Division of quasi-marital property
  • Petition to establish parental relationship involving Family Code Section 7612(b) or (c)
  • Child custody and visitation involving Hague Convention or UCCJEA
  • Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO)
  • Spousal or domestic partner support in long term marriages, as defined by Family Code Section 4336, unless included in a marital settlement agreement that does not terminate or set nonmodifiable spousal support
  • Discovery
    • Oral depositions
    • Expert discovery
    • Related motions
  • Pre-marital/post-marital agreements
  • Marvin/palimony actions
  • Contempt actions

The Working Group recommends that paraprofessionals be authorized to provide full in-court representation, excluding jury trials, in family law matters, with the following exception:

  • Hearings on emergency custody or visitation requests when a judge has granted temporary emergency orders. At such hearings, paraprofessionals are authorized to sit at counsel table to support and advise their client, and may answer direct procedural questions from the judge.

The Working Group recommends that paraprofessionals be authorized to provide out of court and full in-court representation in uncontested adoptions, with the following exceptions:

  • Adoptions arising from dependency petitions
  • Adoptions where the child has been identified as protected by the Indian Child Welfare Act

The Working Group recommends that paraprofessionals be authorized to assist petitioners in uncontested conservatorship and guardianship cases, with the following exception:

  • Guardianships established in dependency court for parties entitled to court-appointed counsel

The Working Group recommends that paraprofessionals be authorized to provide full in-court representation for clients in uncontested conservatorship and guardianship cases.

The Working Group recommends that paraprofessionals be authorized to provide representation in violence prevention matters, including domestic violence, elder or dependent adult abuse, gun violence, civil harassment, and workplace violence.

The Working Group recommends that paraprofessionals be authorized to provide full in-court representation, excluding jury trials, with the following exceptions:

  • Domestic violence hearings involving children
  • If expert witness testimony will be introduced, paraprofessionals are prohibited from introducing or cross-examining expert witnesses

Health

The Working Group recommends that the Health practice area be excluded from the paraprofessional program


Housing

Landlord-Tenant

The Working Group recommends that paraprofessionals be authorized to assist clients in residential landlord tenant matters, including unlawful detainer actions, as follows:

  • Representation is limited to tenants, and landlords who own no more than two units
  • In unlawful detainer matters, paraprofessionals may provide in-court representation for motion hearings and default prove-ups
  • Paraprofessionals may not provide in-court representation in bench trials or jury trials;
  • During unlawful detainer trials, paraprofessionals may assist their clients by sitting at counsel table, to provide advice and guidance, and may respond to direct questions from the judge
  • Aside from unlawful detainer matters and small claims assistance, paraprofessionals may not represent or assist clients in court or out of court in superior court litigation in landlord-tenant disputes.

The Working Group recommends that in addition to required disclosures about the availability of a free attorney through a local legal services program to those who qualify, 1) paraprofessionals are required to advise clients of availability of a right to counsel program, or must certify that no such program exists, in their county; and 2) for landlord tenant matters on behalf of tenants, disclosures specifically include that paraprofessionals are not licensed to provide in-court representation at trial and if the case goes to trial, having an attorney is strongly recommended.

Lien Clearing

The Working Group recommends that

  • paraprofessionals are not authorized to assist with homeownership issues or title clearing issues other than those related to clearing liens
  • paraprofessionals are authorized to assist clients in clearing liens from titles outside of litigation, but are prohibited from assisting with or representing parties in quiet title actions or other matters related to home ownership or real estate title issues.

Pilot Implementation

The Working Group recommends that the initial phase of the program be limited to the following practice areas, as defined by the corresponding practice area subcommittees:

  • Family Law
  • Housing
  • Collateral Criminal

The Working Group recommends that the initial phase of the program be limited to the following geographic areas, subject to modification as warranted by additional data:

  • Northern California Counties:
    • Alameda
    • Santa Clara
    • El Dorado
    • Placer
    • Sacramento
    • Yuba
  • Central California Counties:
    • Fresno
    • Merced
    • Tulare
  • Southern California:
    • Orange County

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