Requirements to become a Paralegal in Washington State
Washington State, like most states, has no requirement that a person be licensed, certified or registered with any state agency or professional association (including WSPA) before he or she can work as a paralegal.
Accordingly, Washington State has no entity to certify, license or otherwise regulate paralegals.
WSPA is a strong proponent of quality Paralegal Education programs and supports both the Academic Standards and the Core Competencies as laid out by the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE) including the minimum number of semester hours necessary to be adequately prepared for entry into the legal profession. Even so, there is not yet any minimum educational requirement to work as a Paralegal. In fact, many paralegals have been trained "on the job" and do not hold formal Paralegal Certificates from recognized paralegal programs.
It is generally agreed that paralegals holding Paralegal Certificates from accredited programs are generally more highly sought after by employers, but well experienced paralegals without certificates can command strong salaries as well.
WSPA's CLE Requirement
Since the paralegal profession is not yet regulated in our state, there is also no requirement in Washington for paralegals to maintain Continuing Legal Education credits. WSPA, as a voluntary professional association, strongly believes that paralegals should participate in Continuing Legal Education activities to stay apprised of changes in the law and professional developments. WSPA requires its members to earn at least 10 continuing legal education credits each year in order to maintain their status as a Voting member or to hold a Statewide office. (See Education.)
Certified vs. Certificated
Paralegals completing a recognized course of study, whether such program is approved by the American Bar Association or not, are properly referred to "Certificated" (not Certified) paralegals. This means that the educational program from which the paralegal graduated bestowed a certificate of completion, but there is no statewide proficiency examination required for entry into the paralegal profession that would "certify" competency.
To state that one is "Certified" implies that they are authorized in some way by an agency or other body of authority to perform certain work. As noted above, there is not presently any agency in Washington State to "Certify" paralegals, so it is improper and misleading to identify oneself as a Washington State Certified Paralegal.
In Washington, paralegals typically work under the supervision of an attorney or under court rule or federal or state law authorizing such work. Washington law prohibits the practice of law without a license, and this includes persons purporting to be paralegals and providing legal and law-related services directly to the public. See General Rule 24 - Definition of the Practice of Law (GR 24) and Washington State Court Rules: Rules of Professional Conduct - Rule 5.3 - Responsibilities Regarding Non-lawyer Assistants (RPC 5.3).
Complaints about the unauthorized practice of law may be made to Washington’s Practice of Law Board. WSPA has no authority to regulate or oversee the actions of paralegals or to prohibit individuals from identifying themselves as paralegals whether or not WSPA deems such person as un-qualified.
PRACTICE OF LAW BOARD
Effective September 1, 2001, the Washington State Supreme Court adopted General Rule 25 (GR25), which established the Practice of Law Board (POLB).
GR 25 provides that the purpose of the Board is to:
- promote expanded access to affordable and reliable legal and law-related services
- expand public confidence in the administration of justice
- make recommendations regarding the circumstances under which non-lawyers may be involved in the delivery of certain types of legal and law-related services
- enforce rules prohibiting individual sand organizations from engaging in unauthorized legal and law-related services that post a threat to the general public
- ensure that those engaged in the delivery of legal services in the state of Washington have the requisite skill and competencies necessary to serve the public.
The POLB is composed of 13 members, at least four of whom are non-lawyers. The Board of Governors of the Washington State Bar Association believes that it is important that the POLB represent the broad public interest in the delivery of legal services. Also, the Board of Governors is concerned that the POLB reflect the broad range of diversity of individuals who are part of or who use the legal system.
WSPA's former Spokane Chapter Director and long time member, Jeanne Dawes, was appointed to the initial POLB; Jeanne remains an active member to date and WSPA is proud to have Jeanne as an advocate for expansion of paralegal roles in the delivery of legal and law-related services.
In September 2003, the Supreme Court published its landmark Civil Legal Needs Study to identify the unmet civil legal needs of Washington’s low-income and vulnerable populations. The study revealed that many thousands of our state’s most vulnerable residents have serious egal problems and cannot get any help in resolving them. Many don’t even realize their situations have a legal dimension. Others don’t know where to seek help or are too overwhelmed to try. Meanwhile they are systematically denied the ability to assert and enforce fundamental legal rights, and forced to live with the consequences. The court commended the authors of the study, noted that the findings presented tremendous challenges for those serving in the state’s justice system and to all who believe in our democracy’s promise of “liberty and justice for all.” We commend the study and look forward to working to develop the necessary strategic responses.
Since that time, the POLB has been considering a Legal Technician Rule as well as possible pilot programs in Elder Law, Family Law, Housing Law and Immigration Law and held a public hearing on this pilot program concept on June 1, 2007.
In January 2008, the POLB recommended to the Washington State Supreme Court that it adopt a proposed Admission to Practice Rule and Regulations as apply to the area of Family Law in the manner defined in the POLB Family Law Subcommittee Report (see pages 33-38 of recommendation). The Court published the proposal for comments. The Washington State Access to Justice Board wrote a letter of support which can be read here.
If this topic is something that you are interested in, but have not been involved with before, we encourage you to start getting involved. A good starting place is to connect with your WSPA leadership. There are several ways that members can become involved - just contact your local chapter director, or one of the WSPA statewide officers if you would like more information about WSPA leadership opportunities. If you want to be notified of matters like this regularly, you should join WSPA's Regulation list serve. To do this all you need to do is join the Regulation List Serve by editing your WSPA Profile (must be logged in as a current WSPA member.)
The POLB will be around for a long time, and it will be doing important work. Here is your opportunity to help direct the future of your profession. For a more detailed overview of the proposed Legal Technician Rule, please see the section titled Expanding
Non Lawyer Practice Commission Regulations (2006 Draft)
Practice of Law Board Regulations: GR 24 ; GR 25
EXPANDING PARALEGAL ROLES
There has been quite a bit of discussion, both within Washington State and on the national level, about how to increase legal and law-related services for those who cannot afford an attorney while simultaneously protecting consumers from unqualified practitioners and the unlicensed practice of law. These issues are often thought to be in conflict, but the solution may involve some kind of regulation or licensing of paralegals. WSPA leaders work to ensure that the viewpoint of its members is strongly represented in discussions of these important issues at both the state and national levels.
The WSPA Regulation Committee, under the direction of the WSPA Board of Directors, conducted a survey of WSPA members in the fall of 2004. From those survey results, the WSPA Regulation Committee drafted a "WSPA Position Statement on the Expansion and Regulation of Non-Lawyer Practice" and also a proposed the "Washington State Limited Practice Paralegal Rule" which were presented to the WSPA Board for its approval on March 3, 2005. WSPA's position statement and proposed form of Limited Practice Paralegal Rule were approved by the WSPA Board were provided to the POLB for its review and consideration.
Florida's Move towards Paralegal Regulation
The Florida Supreme Court adopted rules regarding Paralegal Regulation in November 2007. In January 2008, NFPA responded to those rules and proposed that Florida Registered Paralegal use the designation of "FRP" so as to avoid possible confusion with NFPA's registered trademark of "RP" for paralegals who have obtained their PACE Registered Paralegal ("RP") credential.
Florida enacted a voluntary Paralegal Registration program, which through March 2011, has over 5,200 Florida Registered Paralegals.
Most recently, the Florida Alliance of Paralegal Associations (FAPA) annnounced that of two new bills to require mandatory paralegal regulation were introduced for consideration by the Florida Legislature in the session due to begin on March 8, 2011: Senate Bill 1612, and House Bill 1149.
Florida House Bill 1149 - Regulation of the Paralegal Profession, if passed into law, would require the Florida Supreme Court to establish a program to require licensure of paralegals practicing in the state; requires that Supreme Court establish minimum standards & qualifications & provide for continuing education, certification, & professional conduct; requires Supreme Court to create independent board to assist in regulation of paralegals; provides penalties for unlicensed practice.
For more information on Florida's progress in Paralegal Regulation, visit http://www.fapainc.org/
If you are interested in the issue of non-lawyer regulation, you might want to join the Regulation list serve. To join the Regulation list serve, Edit your profile when you are logged in as a WSPA member. For more information you can contact the Regulation Committee Chair listed below.