Our justice system is changing as demand for access to court services grows. Are specially trained paralegal professionals the answer?
Across the country, states are looking for ways to grant special licenses so paralegal professionals can handle some issues that have traditionally required an attorney. New programs with names including “allied legal professionals, “limited licensing,” and “legal paraprofessionals” are opening ways to offer access to justice and, at the same time, opening pathways for paralegals to expand their roles and embrace new opportunities.
This is important stuff that affects us all, even if the stereotype is that “legal aid” projects are for indigent cases, studies find up to 40% of the legal needs of middle-class people go unaddressed due to high demand and costs. There has to be a better way. The medical community developed new ways to provide care (nurse practitioners instead of an M.D.), so why can’t we build a new tier of legal service providers?
It’s been a long slog as states individually decide how tiers of limited licensures can ensure access to justice. And it’s been contentious, maybe because the issue isn’t fully understood. Get educated and get involved with this informative episode of the Paralegal Voice.
Jill Francisco: Welcome back to another episode of the Paralegal Voice on the Legal Talk Network. I’m your host, Jill Francisco, an advanced certified paralegal and past president of NALA. Also, here today is my co-host Tony Sipp, paralegal manager, and I’m going to start calling him the paralegal extraordinaire. He didn’t know that but anyway, we can always change it. But, Tony recently has joined me as my co-host and I couldn’t be more happy. So today we are super excited because we actually have a panel and we have never done a panel, at least I have not. Obviously, Tony has not so we’re taking on big things today because this is a big deal. What we’re talking about is a big deal. And so why not have a panel and really give it the tension and the merit that it deserves. So, joining me today — I’m just going to tell you who what we have joining us today. I’m not going to really go in. They all have wonderful, extensive resumes and we are going to hopefully include when we get this episode out, their information and website links, and some documents. So, if anybody, hears anything, the listeners are interested and you want to hear more stuff and you want to follow up, we want you to be able to have that information readily available when the show is posted. So, we will do our best to get that posted out there. So first I have joining us on the panel today is Alicia Mitchell-Mercer, and she is the director of Project Management at Alicia Mitchell-Mercer of Lex Project Management Consulting Group. So, welcome Alicia.
Alicia Mitchell-Mercer: Thank you, Jill. Thank you for having me.
Jill Francisco: So good to have you back. Let’s say back because remember.
Alicia Mitchell-Mercer: Back, for sure.
Jill Francisco: And also joining us today we have S.M. Kernodle-Hodges, which she is the program coordinator and clerk for the Wake County Legal Support in North Carolina. Welcome Kernodle.
S.M. Kernodle-Hodges: Thank you.
Jill Francisco: And lastly, on our panel we have Michael Houlberg, director of Special Projects at the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver. Welcome, Michael.
Michael Houlberg: Thank you. Happy to be here.
Jill Francisco: Thank you so much. So, thank you everyone for joining us and I’m going to go ahead and just open up just real quick for each of them. I would like you guys just to say, if you want to say a little bit about yourself and just maybe your position or however you want to describe your involvement in what we’re going to be talking about today is basically it all boils down to access to justice. And these three individuals have been very, very instrumental in getting the initiative started, and Alicia is — they’re in North Carolina and doing and pushing for legislation. I mean, they’ve just been going really full steam ahead and getting this going. And we want to bring attention to all the good they’ve been doing and how much it’s advancing. It’s been work. I talked to Alicia and I think she said Alicia was over a couple years, this has all been going on.
Alicia Mitchell-Mercer: In North Carolina, yes. I think we started putting together our initial proposal for Limited Licensing in 2020, the end of 2020, and then we were studying it with the State Bar and now we’ve moved on to some other options, which we can cover in a bit.
Jill Francisco: Awesome. What a time to start in COVID. You must needed something to do.
Alicia Mitchell-Mercer: Exactly right. Completely bored. Needed something to do.
Jill Francisco: Completely bored. If you know any of these people that we have on this panel, we know that none of us are bored. All right. Well, Alicia, why don’t we just go back to you then and just, you can give a little background and talk about your position and how this is all coming together with our awesome topic that we’re discussing today.
Alicia Mitchell-Mercer: Okay. So, my name is Alicia Mitchell-Mercer and I’m a legal project manager consultant in North Carolina. But as it relates to the access to justice conversation, I’m the co-founder of the North Carolina Justice for All Project with S.M. Kernodle-Hodges, who’s also on the panel with us. And we are working on legislative reform to assist legal aid and our state, and also to assist the middle class with more affordable legal services.
Jill Francisco: Awesome. So awesome. Kernodle, do you want to chime in right there with the other co-founder?
S.M. Kernodle-Hodges: Yes. As she mentioned, I am also the co-founder of the North Carolina Justice for All Project. I am currently at the Wake County Legal Support Center and we are attempting to provide the community with better access to justice and more support services in our courthouse.
Jill Francisco: Yes. And lastly, but not least, Michael.
Michael Houlberg: Yeah. So, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, we like to go by IAALS because it’s a lot shorter, but we are a national independent research center and we really work to create innovative, practical solutions to problems within the American legal system.
And one of those that we saw that was gaining a lot of traction was this legal paraprofessional or allied legal professional. The million different names that you want to call them. We saw these programs and states really gaining a lot of interest in learning more about them when they potentially create one. And so, we started working to do a lot of that background research that states were looking for in terms of what other states were doing, what these programs look like, and best practices for how could they could create their own.
Jill Francisco: Wonderful. And like I said, I don’t know, just real quick, I mean, like I was talking to Alicia and I was past president of NALA and I think like the Triple LT as one of the names that you just alluded to different states, call it different things that I believe was in Washington, that was like one of the first. And I think that – when I first, it was panic, like NALA was just kind of keeping an eye on it because we’re like, oh my gosh, is this going to change our profession? Is this going to — what is this going to do to us? So back then we were just kind of taking, sitting back and seeing what was going on. And then I think that kind of dropped off. And now they’re ramping back up. And then now, like you said, now a lot of other states are probably learning from their program and what they were doing, and you get the positives and the concerns and the negatives. And so, I think it’s just kind of gone from there. But that’s one of the things that I think that we want to start out to talk about today to kind of give everybody a basis for like, what I know, and well, let me back up. So, Michael has – -they have a report, the Landscape Allied Legal Professionals Report. I don’t know if that’s the formal. Probably it has a few more words to that. And like you were just saying, your purpose and what you started to do because states were looking for guidance and for things like that to get their individual things. So like, what was the reason? Like why did you feel like this was necessary? Like why do you feel like you needed to get do this in the beginning?
Michael Houlberg: So first states became interested in, like you said, Washington and their limited license legal technicians, that’s why we say Triple LT.
Jill Francisco: Exactly.
Michael Houlberg: But they started it in 2012 and the reason that they started, why other states really gained traction, is because of the access to justice crisis. And so, what we have going on in the United States that I feel a lot of people who aren’t really looking into the research often, which I don’t think a lot of people do because they’re so busy with their own daily jobs. It just happens to be my daily job. But there are over 70% of civil and family court cases have at least one party that is self-represented. When you look specifically at eviction and debt collection cases, that number jumps to over 90% in some jurisdictions. So these are many, many, many cases, many people that are going to court that are handling the entire portion of their case without an attorney, which is an extremely difficult thing to do.
The World Justice Project in 2021, they ranked countries for accessibility to court in legal services. The United States ranked 126/139. I don’t think that’s where we want to be. And when we talk about this, a lot of people think, oh, this is a poor person’s problem that this is something, then let’s look at legal aid, let’s look at pro bono. These are the only ways to solve this. But the truth is this really goes high up into the middle-income levels as well. Research shows also between 40% to 60% of the needs of middle-income individuals go unaddressed as well.
So, this a problem that reaches far at the income scale. So Washington really got started with it first in the United States. And then in 2018, Utah got started with their program. And then it was the beginning of 2021, which is when IAALS really started to get started, and that is also when Arizona created their program and Minnesota created their pilot project to test the waters for, if something like this would work in their state. And IAALS saw that there’s a lot of interest from a lot of states, but what this is doing is it’s taking a lot of resources from these states. It’s taking a lot of time. It’s taking a lot of people hours. It’s taking a lot just financially to create these committees. And what they’re doing is they’re trying — they’re first exploring what are other states doing? What does this even look like?
And so that’s why IAALS decided to create the landscape report so the states can just have this one paper that they can look at and see, okay, here are all the states that are involved right now, and this is what their programs look like. We also saw, in addition to that, one states found out, okay, this is what every other state that’s involved, what their programs look like. They want to know, well, what’s working. Based on data and best practices, what should we be doing? What’s going to really benefit our state? So what IAALS did with that is we hosted a convening where we brought together a lot of diverse experts in this field that are working in this area. We had representatives from three of, if not the three largest national paralegal organizations of NALA, NFPA and AFPE. There are a lot of para, I’m sure we’re going to get more into this, but there are a lot of paralegals that are very interested and these programs are not solely for paralegals looking to advance their career, but very much there are avenues and pathways that paralegals can take to become these professionals. And so, we held this convening to develop recommendations on how states should develop their program, and that report’s actually coming out next month.
Jill Francisco: Ooh, exciting. So, I wanted Tony to get a word in here about what you’ve been seeing out on your end. Because obviously there’s not much going on here in West Virginia about that. But what are you seeing out there in your area, more heard or just kind of familiar with.
Tony Sipp: So, I know that there’s a lot of push for access to justice, a lot of the courts in LA. Well, I’ll just say California had a big push to increase technology so it can make it more accessible for everyone and it seems to be working so far. We just want to expand it even more so. So, the courts are doing their part at least out here. Well, I’ll stop there because there’s a lot that we can discuss and we have a lot of guests here, so I want to get their opinion because I was fascinated.
Jill Francisco: Right. And maybe I want to move on, like Alicia and I, we were — Alicia, I don’t know what exactly do you want to talk like how at North Carolina. I’m so excited about. We were talking about all the good things. I feel like it’s like the pilot. I don’t know if that’s right, but I feel like that’s the pilot, the front runner. I mean, you’ve done a lot of things there even with the starting out with the paralegals and the certification. You’ve grown it into so much and now opening up like paralegals and like you said, legal professionals, but the paralegal is just easy to say because of the skillset as we were talking about. It’s easy to have that translate. But maybe talk about you and Kernodle. I mean you guys are the North Carolina, you’re in that area. If you guys want to talk about what’s going on there and how you’re doing there.
Alicia Mitchell-Mercer: Sure, I can talk a little bit about that. So, I think North Carolina isn’t really unique amongst the states with regards to the access to justice issues. I think every state is seeing kind of people struggling to be able to have their legal needs met and then just this realization that when people have legal needs, a lot of these times they’re basic human needs that they’re trying to have fulfilled. So, we’re talking about things like shelter, being able to have a job to put food on the table, put a roof over their heads, safety. Sometimes we’re talking about domestic violence and other issues like that that can be civil and maybe have a criminal element, but many times their civil issues as well.
And so, in North Carolina, I think what we were coming to realize is in our work as paralegals, I’ve paralegalling since 2003. And in my work, when I was working in family law, I would notice that we would have, anecdotally, clients would come in and you would hear so-and-so scheduled an appointment, when they come in, they do the consultation, and they realized during that consultation that they can’t afford the retainer that the attorney is quoting, or they are halfway through their lawsuit and they run out of money and there’s no one to borrow it from, so then they end up having to try and take care of these issues on their own.
And so, we started thinking about was, is there a way to reach out and help these people because these people, when they’re turned away, because they can’t afford the services, they frequently aren’t going to get help from legal aid either, right? Because you’ve got legal aid with their income caps, 16,100 for a single person, around 33,000 for a family of four. And so, there really isn’t another service provider to be able to assist those people that are in the access to justice gap. And as you know, like I do, I mean the legal system is, it has its own lexicon.
It is just a very different kind of system to traverse. And so, if you don’t have a lawyer, it becomes very difficult to have those basic needs met. So, this is not like a luxury that we’re trying to have met. This isn’t like buying a new car necessarily. This is just about having basic needs met.
So, then we started talking about other professions. We are looking kind of at the stratification of other professions, say the medical industry for example, how they have — we think about nurse practitioners. I mean, that’s probably the closest on alignment to what we’re talking about, but there’s many more. There’s phlebotomists and there’s all kinds of physician assistants and all kinds of specialists that you can go to if you’re having a medical problem. And the reason that that started in the sixties was because there was a shortage of providers. And so now we’re looking, if you get sick, you can go to urgent care and you can see practitioner ostensibly for less than it would take to go see a medical doctor.
So just a couple more points of interest, I think in 2017, so this whole North Carolina Justice for All Project was really Kernodle’s brainchild. Okay. She contacted me and this was something that had really been on her heart for a long time. And I’ll let her talk about this. I don’t want to take away everything that she has to say, but I know she’s very humble, so I want to put some things out there. So Kernodle, she worked in law enforcement for 10 years so she had that kind of that background. And she came to me and we were talking about the commission on the administration of law and justice in North Carolina. It was a commission that our former Chief Justice Mark Martin had set up to kind of evaluate our court system and see where there were areas of opportunity for improvement. And so, this is back in 2017, that commission actually made recommendations. There were five committees in that commission. There was the legal Professionalism Committee and they recommended looking at a second tier of legal professional to assist with the access to justice crisis. They also recommended an innovation center be created so that we could keep up with the ever-changing regulations and ever-changing legal system.
So, there were other recommendations that came out from other committees, like raise the age and there were some other things that they discussed like we should be e-filing, North Carolina is very behind when it came to e-filing and we watched with great interest to see if they would actually start to implement those changes. But by 2019, when we saw them start to focus on some of the other things, no one, it was like dead silent when it came to talking about any other kind of regulatory reform with regard to relaxing unauthorized practice of law statutes for a second tier. So that’s when Kernodle came to me and started talking to me about what can we do to get something started. And so, I’m going to pass it on Kernodle if she wants to kind of jump in there and tell me how she saw things from her perspective.
S.M. Kernodle-Hodges: I would say we both had the idea. She does tell the story, then I harassed her through her inbox a lot. But eventually she gave in and said, okay, we can have a conversation about it. And I will go back to what she said about me being in law enforcement. One of the things that I learned on the job was that when the judge says, “Ignorance of the law is not an excuse.” They mean it. So, people were going to jail every day because they just didn’t understand not only how things were on a day-to-day basis in the court, but they also didn’t understand legal language. And then the other barriers that people dealt with years ago when I was in law enforcement were just being able to read, some were not able to write. So, when you’re arresting people or processing them and you’re asking them, do you understand, the reality of it is the only thing they understood is if I sign here, I can go home. And if I say I’m going to show up in court and agree, then they’ll let me go. That’s really the gist of it. And I didn’t feel comfortable with that because the flip side of that is the same reason that they will be incarcerated or detained is because they didn’t know how to answer, they didn’t understand what their rights were.
When we started to weigh in on what we saw in North Carolina, we struggled to understand why there were all of these commissions and agencies, and offices, but still no resolution for a large portion of the community that needed support services. So, revisiting the limited licensing became a conversation that eventually became an action because we chose to write the proposal, because we wanted to bring to our state bar and our Supreme Court justice, Chief Justice Newby, the person we started wit who has been great throughout this process. Just to see what their thoughts were at this stage where we were, we’ve seen all the programs, we’ve done all the research, but we are not really seeing anything that’s been implemented.
And so, I would say somewhat waited for the push and went through the process. So, we’ve had all the meetings, we’ve sat in on all the committees and we’d like to say a committee for a committee, for another committee, and we still didn’t have any resolution. So most recently, and I’m sure we’re going to talk about it later, we had since decided to take it a step further because we still see those in need, Michael Mitch earlier about the evictions.
There was a study done in a census released in January 2022 that said 3.8 million people who were once under the COVID protection, the memorandum for eviction protection would be homeless because there would be no additional funding, there would be no additional services. So you have a lot of those people that needed legal service but couldn’t afford an attorney. Didn’t know what a terror and still were going to be evicted.
So a lot of those issues are still evident right now in 2023. We need to see some change. The limited license in our mind or some form of alternative legal service is while we are pushing in North Carolina to see change and advocate for because it needs to happen so that the families will benefit from it.
Jill Francisco: Yeah. And thank you all three of you guys for explaining that because I think it’s important for people to know, like I said, why this came about. And then we had you guys, you two in North Carolina that just was like you said, you see all of it’s like meetings for meetings on top of meetings, but there’s never any action. And I think that at some point you just keep looking at yourself and going, I want to do something. What can we do? So, it’s awesome that you guys got together and actually, like I said, turned some of the information, the data, the things that have been collected and the meeting, from the meetings, because you do have to collaborate. You do have to gather your thoughts and gather information. I mean, obviously that’s an important thing to have. You need that when you’re wanting to make change and to implement new processes and things. So, we have obviously a lot more that we want to discuss, but we’re going to take a quick break to thank our sponsors and we’ll come back and continue this conversation.
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Thank you so much and welcome back to the paralegal voice. I’m here with a panel of people today along with my co-host Tony, and we were going to jump back in here and talk about some obstacles because you always want to talk about the obstacles, the opposition, because we don’t need to tell you that with the paralegal skillset and other legal professionals. That’s one thing that we have to be trained to deal with and be ready to answer to. But then also, those are sometimes the one that are given us, the obstacle. So, I guess, you know, turnabout fair play. So, Alicia, I think you were going to begin and talk a little bit about some of the opposition obstacles that you guys have had thrown at you.
Alicia Mitchell-Mercer: Sure. So, I think when we put together our initial proposal for the limited licensing, that was just being sent to the State Bar and being sent to the Supreme Court to kind of see if we could get some consensus or maybe build a coalition to try and address some of those issues that we were bringing up and when we submitted that to the State Bar, they contacted us. They were in the middle of studying other topics that were really regulatory reform and regulatory subcommittee. So, we were appointed to that committee and we studied things like regulatory sandboxes, limited licensing and some other types of regulatory reform for almost —
I think the committee and total study that for almost two years, we were a part of that committee for I think about 18 months. And so, at the end of that study, the regulatory subcommittee actually voted in favor of the limited licensing but there didn’t seem to be an appetite to move forward with it after that vote happened. So, you know, at the State Bar, there are committees, right, and you’ve got different levels of committees. And then, you’ve got kind of the executive committee at the top and it just wasn’t really making the progress that we wanted to see. So instead, what happened was they decided to in the summer of 2022. So, a report came out in January 2022 recommending limited licensing from the State Bar and nothing happened with that. And then in the summer, they decided to create a standing access to justice committee and we asked to be appointed to that committee, and we were not selected for that committee and we kind of waited to see what they would be discussing and they weren’t really discussing limited licensing. So, we were like, okay, what can we do at this point? So, we did have a little bit of help along the way. I mean, actually, a lot of help along the way. We had, at that time, he was a Court of Appeals judge, Richard Dietz, and he was kind of giving us his perspective on the access to justice crisis. He was taught — he actually told us about his upbringing and how he grew up from a family of limited means and what his family went through, what his mom went through when she needed legal help and couldn’t get access to it. So, he really had a heart for it and it was something that he really wanted to see himself. So now, he is Justice Richard Dietz and we correspond with him occasionally to talk to him about what his thoughts are in regards to what we’re doing. But after the access to justice, standing committee was created by the State Bar and we didn’t really see any movement. We thought we probably should go a different route, right? Well, like we knew that the end result had to be the general assembly because in our state and every state is set up differently and Michael can touch on that. In our state, the general assembly or the legislature has to change the law of the UPL statutes in order to be able to license a second tier of legal professional. So, the efforts that we have put in beforehand were just to try and see if we could go to the legislature together to make a change. So then, the end of last year 2022, I worked on a legislative proposal and a legislator policy and we submitted that to our legislature in February of this year and, actually, Michael, IAALS was very helpful. He gave us a lot of great information to put into our legislative proposal and he’s been a great resource for just understanding more about the access to justice crisis. I don’t know if Kernodle has anything in addition she wants to weigh in with regards to kind of where we are now and how we got here.
Michael Houlberg: The struggles that Alicia and Kernodle have had in North Carolina, they’re definitely not alone, but we’ve seen a lot of differences just really fluctuating depending on the state. There are three states that looked into developing these programs that ultimately decided that they were going to pass on the opportunity being California, Florida and Illinois. And then, Washington, they have an active program but, currently, they can’t have any additional triple LTs joining but all the ones who are currently licensed can continue to practice. And so, there’s been some struggles there as well and all of these have really been generated by attorneys and it’s almost exclusively attorneys. It’s not the public. We’re not hearing from the public saying we don’t want this. We would never use this service. We only want an attorney’s help and if we can’t afford alone, I’d be happy to do it myself. We are not hearing that. In fact, Arizona, they’re one of the few states actually put out a public survey as they were developing their program asking, you know, giving them just some basic information on what these programs look like and saying, would you be interested in this? And it was I think between 70% to 80% of the respondents said yes that they would be interested in this.
Jill Francisco: Not surprising.
Michael Houlberg: It’s absolutely not surprising. And what’s unfortunate that one thing we’re trying to change is a lot of states, when they are beginning to develop our look into this, they have either a written comment that would go to either the bar of the State Supreme Court or like public testimony that you can come and talk about whether you’re in favor or against this. Well, these are usually posted on the State Supreme Court’s website, the Bars website. You don’t have a lot of people from the public constantly going on there, seeing if there’s opportunities for them to speak in front of the Supreme Court.
So, it’s just really tailored for only attorneys to go and talk about this and they have concerns that I personally don’t think are valid, but I think it’s just a lack of understanding of the services that they provide and who they’re providing it for because the worry is that they’re going to take their clients, but these are people who can’t afford $5,000 retainers. I can’t afford a $5,000 retainer or paying $300 to $500 an hour for any sort of legal help. And so, there’s huge support from the public when they are asked and, actually, when attorneys know about this and understand it and work with these professionals, they are very interested and onboard as well, and I think the perfect example of that is Minnesota. It’s just a pilot project right now, but in order for them to work, they have to be under the supervision of an attorney and what goes along with that is that they actually are working under the attorney’s license. And so, if they mess up, it’s the attorney’s license and the attorney that could potentially be suspended from working or what. So, it’s a pretty serious role and a survey went out to those supervising attorneys asking how’s it going, what do you think, and they actually asked for the roles of their legal professionals what they call them to be expanded and to go actually to work on areas that are more difficult, and they’re allowing their legal professionals to go to court by themselves to represent their clients. So, it’s showing that there is a lot of interest once attorneys understand and work with them and see just how capable they are.
Jill Francisco: It’s funny because you said, so currently working under the supervision of attorney which obviously is what we’re used to hearing and knowing now. So, do you think — I mean, I hate to say it, playing the Devil’s Advocate kind of but, I mean, do you think it’s only working because still you’re under them. You know what I mean? Like is that why they’re — you know.
Michael Houlberg: Yeah. So, absolutely not, thankfully because out of the active states right now, they’re the only ones that are requiring attorney’s supervision.
Jill Francisco: Oh, perfect. Okay, okay.
Michael Houlberg: So, Washington did not.
Jill Francisco: Right.
Michael Houlberg: Arizona and Utah, they also do not. And then, Oregon is going to be implementing their program later this year and they will not be requiring as well. So, the majority of states that are looking in and actually created these programs, they’re not requiring attorney’s supervision because soon the data they know it’s not necessary.
Jill Francisco: Right.
Michael Houlberg: And there’s been like interviews of or like asking clients or asking even judges like, how did this person do in court, did they understand what they were doing, did they represent their client well, and it’s really just been rave reviews.
Jill Francisco: Awesome.
Michael Houlberg: And so, an attorney’s supervision is not needed and I don’t think that’s going to be the common practice in any way.
Jill Francisco: Great, great. Yeah. And that’s everybody said and that’s what we need to get, I mean, that’s kind of like you said the whole purpose that you’re getting more and more and like you said, the positive feedback is only hopefully going to allow expansion and create the good examples and go more instead of back or stagnant or staying and go less. So, okay. We have to take another quick break to thank our sponsors. And then, we’ll come right back to final up with this great panel we have today.
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Jill Francisco: Oh, welcome back to The Paralegal Voice and we want to get right back into our conversation of wonderful information and things about the access to justice, and I have the panel members here that I want to give them all kind of one more chance to give some final thoughts maybe what they think is happening, is coming next, they’re hoping to happen.
I know there’s things out there that you have your pending that’s coming up and I just want to let everybody know those thoughts so they can be ready when the great things continue to happen hopefully because I feel like that’s we’re making progress. So, Alicia, do you want to start on that?
Alicia Mitchell-Mercer: Sure. So, I think when Michael was talking earlier about barriers, they’re being both positive and negative aspects to going through this process. One of the things that I know that has been brought up throughout our journey has been the issue of public harm. And so, we talked a little bit about the competition piece, I think, but the public harm, a lot of attorneys seem to bring that up as an issue that needs to be addressed, and I think one of the important things to note is that none of the programs that are currently being considered or have already been implemented are suggesting that paralegals should just be given a license. Like right now, you’re just ready to go out there and practice law. They’re been very carefully crafted to consider what education components might be necessary, what additional training, what experience might be necessary. And also, this license is a limited license, right?
Jill Francisco: Right.
Alicia Mitchell-Mercer: So, it’s not a license to go out and practice any kind of law you want to practice. Typically, the license is in a specific area of practice. So, for example, maybe you have a limited license and family law. You might have in a limited license in debtor-creditor issues, things of that nature. Every state is doing something different, but when it comes to the issue of public harm, I had a lot of questions about that myself and when I was speaking to on Scotty Hill at Utah, I booked her every once in a while and I think I last spoke to her in December and I asked her, “Since your program has been around since 2000, I think ‘19, have you had any incidences of public harm?” And at this time, I was putting together my proposal and she said, “They had not had any reports of public or harm from the people who had a license,” and I found that in all of the states that I ask that question to. They were telling me that the incident is a public harm were non-existent or at least no higher than what they were seeing in the attorney population. So, I do think I agree with Michael that sometimes these issues are about educating lawyers and other stakeholders so that they can understand what the concerns are. I think it’s about building relationships and being able to come together to have a conversation about how we can best serve the needs of the public and making sure that we put the needs of the public first, not the paralegal profession, even though we talk about paralegal is having the skill set to be able to meet these needs. This is not about advancing the paralegal career. Sorry, Jill.
Jill Francisco: Yep.
Alicia Mitchell-Mercer: This is really about access to justice and making sure that people who need legal help are getting legal help. This is not about lawyers and this is not about the prestige or whatever comes along with being a lawyer. This is about helping people in need and really if the whole purpose of the legal system is to make sure that there is justice and fairness and equity, are we really doing the right thing by people by not considering these other options that might help them?
Jill Francisco: Right. And I’m glad you brought that up about advancing the paralegal work because, honestly, no, it’s a good point and I think like people we were talking, we’ve talked in the past were both you and I worked in the paralegal profession for many years, 20 plus years. There’s a lot in that category and I think that sometimes it’s like it’s not necessarily advancing. It’s finding something that’s all of a sudden speaks to you. There’s a cause. There’s something different. You want to make a difference. You’ve been doing XYZ and maybe hopefully you’ve helped clients, whoever they may be. But now, it’s time like it’s speaking to you. You’ve been in there a long time to do something else. And so, to me, it’s more to me like an opportunity to help the access to justice because that is the purpose is furthering that, getting more people access just as getting those people help that they need and getting the whole them be able to access the legal services that they don’t have. And you and I have talked about before where those people, the whole competition thing, we kind of laugh a little bit about it because it’s like those people aren’t going to attorneys. They’re not losing those people because they weren’t going to attorneys anyway. You know? And now, you’re just going to fill that void for them and be able to help them. And so, that brings up a good point, but I do agree with you, but you know high of those. So, I’m glad you bring that up. Kernodle, would you like to piggyback on any of that and go into to your points?
S.M. Kernodle-Hodges: Absolutely, I think is a perfect segue into talking about the people component of beings.
That’s what drives me and I kind of take a look using it down with me when it comes to the people component. Just in the county where I currently service, our center has only been open 60 days. We had serviced over 700 people and we’re only open right now four hours a day. That should focus the demand. A lot of what Michael said earlier in the segment about the legal fees, we are seeing a growing number of people coming in and say, “Our attorney say if we file our own documents, it’ll cut down on our costs” and the going cost is that $300 an hour. So, they’re having their clients coming in and file and they’re sending them to the support center so that we can walk them through how to bio because we’d currently gone to an electronic filing process that takes even more time. When you look at a county as large as the one that were in, we serviced 1.15 million residents and we have to turn people away because we close at a certain time but to have that demand in 60 days and have 700 people coming in, in that sense, we know we’re making a difference, but there’s so much more that can be done. Having something like the limited license in place will create another option for families because a lot of these people do still need legal representation. Support services are fine, but it’s just not enough and you’re going to hear that over and over in all of the conversations that you have. It’s so much more that needs to be done. This one thing will not rule out the other and will never outweigh attorneys. There will always be a need for legal representation, but I think that when we start to consider who’s really being harmed, the public is being harmed the longer we take to implement something that will better serve them.
Jill Francisco: That’s just amazing. That’s amazing stat, 60 days and that much. So, that tells you, like you said, that you definitely there’s a need, but like you said that’s not enough. There needs to be more but, I mean, it’s not good that there’s that much of a need. Obviously, we’re sad that there is that much of a need but that also, like I said, shows I think that will propel you into the next step. It’ll show that there’s a need and you need to keep going on that track. So, Michael last but again not least.
Michael Houlberg: Thanks. So, I’d say in three different points. One is that these programs are working with — the data we have is showing that they are providing competent legal services and it’s at about half the cost of attorneys. So, this is hitting a huge number of people that wouldn’t be able to afford legal services. So, it’s working. In addition, the second point is this is a great opportunity for paralegals. As Alicia said, this was not developed just solely for paralegals into advanced paralegals, but it is still a great opportunity for paralegals and one thing that I’m seeing with all these states, especially when they’re developing their education and practical training requirements is they have multiple pathways of how you can become an ally legal professional and one of those ways often, one of those pathways is through some sort of certification as a paralegal. And so, there’s great opportunity there. And then last, I’ll say is if you are interested but you think your state isn’t doing anything, there’s a lot of states that are really starting to consider this and look into it. You just may not know about it. And so, reach out to either your local, whether it’s a paralegal association or whatever professional association and start finding out what’s going on. And if nothing’s going on, Alicia and Kernodle are the most perfect examples I can think of you make something happen.
Jill Francisco: I would say they’ll help us out, get us a start and because, well, and honestly, I mean, I know that they’ll both agree with me as Tony I’m sure. That’s a paralegal skill set is get it done. I mean, we’re the ones in there getting it done, putting it to action. So, Tony, just a little words that you would like to add on there.
Tony Sipp: No, I am so glad that you all are doing this. Access to a justice is obviously very important. Keep up the good work. I want to see more of this. I want to see more of you and more data so that we can start to spin it in California as well.
Jill Francisco: For sure. So yes, thank you so much each of you for joining us and like I said, we are definitely going to provide each of your contact information and websites and the helpful information so people can —
If there’s people like you said that want to do this that it’s not happening in their area that they can look into making something happen because that’s really what we’re doing here. The more the merrier in this type of situation. There is need everywhere. I don’t know where you can say that everybody’s fine and everybody’s getting everything they need. I don’t know where that is, maybe Disney World or something but not in the legal world. So, we’re going to post that information and like I said, I really appreciate you guys taking your time today and to speak to our listeners and tell all the good and that you guys are doing, and I know that we’ll continue to do. So, thank you again. I appreciate it. Tony, do you want to give your contact information first?
Tony Sipp: Yeah, sure. It’s on LinkedIn. It’s my name T-O-N-Y-S-I-P-P, like take a sip of coffee and I will add you.
Jill Francisco: Right. And I can be reached, of course, at [email protected] if anybody would like to reach out to me. And Alicia, do you want to provide same? Are you in LinkedIn? Is that your best mode of contact?
Alicia Mitchell-Mercer: Yes, I’m Alicia Mitchell-Mercer on LinkedIn and if anyone wanted to contact us at the North Carolina Justice for all project, that would be [email protected]. So, N-C-J-F-A-P dot org.
Jill Francisco: And Kernodle, is your mode on LinkedIn also your preference, preferred contact?
S.M. Kernodle-Hodges: Yes, it is going to be S.M. Kernodle-Hodges, and it will be found on LinkedIn as well.
Jill Francisco: Okay. Thank you so much. And Michael lastly, what’s your preferred method?
Michael Houlberg: I am deaf on LinkedIn. So, I would not do that.
Jill Francisco: Don’t do that for Michael.
Michael Houlberg: I think just my email which is [email protected].
Jill Francisco: Okay. Well, thank you so much and thank you everyone for our listeners who joined us. We’re signing off. Then, we have to see you next month.
Outro: The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network, its officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders or subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.