What does a Legal Paraprofessional Mean?
In Nov. 2020, the Arizona Supreme Court unanimously voted to eliminate Rule 5.4, which previously prohibited non-lawyers from partnering with attorneys or having financial interests in law practices.
The new rule allows alternative business structures to be established and provides for a licensure process for certain non-lawyers to seek and obtain licenses to practice in limited areas of the law as legal paraprofessionals (LP).
The Arizona Supreme Court created a new license to allow qualified and experienced people to practice as licensed legal paraprofessionals to provide services to people so that they can access the courts to address their legal issues.
LPs can offer full legal services in administrative, criminal, civil, and family law matters with very few restrictions. Mrs. Villalobos practices solely in the area of family law. However, she cannot handle appeals, qualified domestic relations orders (QDROs), or the division of formal business entities or commercial property.
This new level of legal services was created to address the large gap in access to justice to provide greater access to the courts for low- and middle-income people to address their civil legal needs. People can become licensed as legal paraprofessionals based on their legal experience and education.
Legal Paraprofessionals, dubbed by some as “legal practitioners”, have similar roles in legal practice to the roles performed by nurse practitioners in medicine.
Licensed LPs are not document preparers or attorneys but are instead experienced legal professionals who are equipped to represent their clients at an affordable cost.
Licensed LPs must meet specific experiential and educational requirements and pass both a core exam and an exam in their practice area to obtain licenses. Much like an Arizona family law attorney, LPs are licensed by the Arizona Supreme Court and can practice in limited areas of the law.
Stephanie Villalobos, the founder of De Novo Law, was the first person in Arizona and in the entire United States to be granted a license as a legal paraprofessional and currently practices in the area of family law.
Legal Paraprofessional vs. Paralegal
The new LP license establishes a level of legal services provider above a paralegal. A paraprofessional vs. paralegal can provide legal advice, draft and file documents, and appear in court without the supervision of an attorney.
By contrast, paralegals must work under the supervision of a lawyer and cannot provide legal advice or representation.
To qualify as an LP, a person must first obtain a combination of experience and legal knowledge in their practice area and pass exams administered by the state. Licensed LPs are affiliate members of the Arizona State Bar. They are limited to practicing in the area in which they are licensed, including family law, matters of limited jurisdiction civil law, limited jurisdiction criminal law, or administrative law.
The new level of legal service providers was established following a two-year investigation by the Arizona Supreme Court Task Force on the Delivery of Legal Services. The task force found that 80% of people who have unmet civil legal needs do not seek redress of their legal issues in court, and legal aid organizations can only help less than 50% of people who request their help.
In Nov. 2021, Stephanie Villalobos was the first person granted a license to practice as an LP in Arizona. She has more than 30 years of experience working as a family law paralegal under the supervision of attorneys.
As a licensed LP, Ms. Villalobos has now opened De Novo Law and provides a variety of family law services, including in the areas of divorce, child custody, parenting time, child support, spousal maintenance, paternity, and more.
She can provide legal advice to her clients and represent them in court in their legal matters without the supervision of an attorney, which allows her to offer family law legal services at a much more affordable price than what people might expect to pay if they instead retain a high-cost divorce attorney, for example. Licensed LPs perform legal work for clients that might be too complicated for people to handle on their own.
The qualifications for becoming a licensed LP include working for seven out of the past 10 years as a paralegal and passing both a core exam and an exam in the practice area for which the person seeks a license.
Ms. Villalobos had more than enough experience to sit for the exams and passed both, obtaining her license to practice family law.
Licensed LPs must follow the Arizona Supreme Court Rules of Professional Conduct and must attend continuing legal education courses each year. Like attorneys, they can be investigated and face sanctions if they violate the rules and are expected to practice with a high level of ethics.
Universities in the state, including the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, have created programs for students to qualify for licensure through education.
Types of Services Legal Paraprofessionals can Perform
Like attorneys, LPs are bound by LP-client privilege. This means that discussions between LPs and their clients are confidential and protected.
Legal paraprofessionals like Stephanie Villalobos can provide the services listed below.
- Providing legal advice and giving recommendations about legal strategies, rights, defenses, and remedies
- Representing clients in court in their family law matters
- Drafting and filing legal documents, including petitions, answers, motions, modifications, discovery, and orders
- Representing clients at mediations
- Appearing in court and settlement conferences were allowed under the procedural rules
- Negotiating on behalf of clients to secure settlements
Family Law Practice Areas
Stephanie Villalobos is licensed as an LP in the area of family law. She can provide services in all of the following practice areas:
- Divorce with or without children
- Spousal maintenance/alimony
- Establishment of paternity
- Child custody
- Child support
- Same-sex family law
- Mediation/alternative dispute resolution
- Debt and asset division
- Separate and marital property
- Grandparents’ rights
- Fathers’ rights
- Contested and uncontested divorce
- Legal separation
- Parenting time and decision-making authority
- Enforcement of orders
- Modification of orders
How You Can Save Money by Retaining an LP?
Many people with pressing family law issues are unable to seek redress because of financial limitations. Others want to save money while pursuing legal remedies for their family law matters.
A legal paraprofessional can provide legal services at a significantly lower rate than what an attorney would charge for the same services.
With a legal paraprofessional, you can receive legal advice, get help with drafting and filing legal pleadings and motions, initiate or respond to court actions, be represented in court, and finalize your case. A legal paraprofessional can either charge by the hour or by a flat fee per unbundled service.
Unbundled services include representation of clients for specific issues. In that type of situation, the client only pays for legal services performed for the needed item instead of an entire case. For example, if you only need legal services to prepare a document or to be represented at a single hearing, you can hire a legal paraprofessional to help with that.
By contrast, most family law and Arizona divorce lawyers are hired to represent clients throughout entire cases, leading to substantial attorney’s fees. The ability to hire Stephanie Villalobos to perform limited services in your family law matter can help you to afford her legal services even if you cannot afford to pay a large retainer.
Arizona Licensing Requirements for LPs
People who want to become LPs must qualify through experience or education. Ms. Villalobos completed her education in paralegal studies and has worked as a family law paralegal for more than 30 years.
In addition to meeting the education or experience requirements, applicants must also pass a three-hour professional responsibility exam and a three-hour exam in the practice field in which they want to be licensed. The tests cover the legal rules of ethics and professional responsibility, legal terms, client communication and confidentiality, substantive law, preparation of legal documents, gathering of information, and other topics.
Applicants must also pass an in-depth background check and meet the standards set by the Arizona Supreme Court before a license will be issued.
After securing a license, an LP must complete continuing legal education units each year. The Arizona Supreme Court removed the restriction on legal paraprofessionals conducting business jointly with attorneys or on their own.
Now, licensed LPs can work at firms with attorneys and have an ownership interest or open their own practices and provide legal services without the supervision of attorneys.
Services Not Handled by Family Law Legal Paraprofessionals
While Ms. Villalobos can provide legal services in most areas of family law, she cannot handle the division of formal business entities or commercial property, qualified domestic relations orders, or other orders through which retirement accounts will be divided, or appeals to the Arizona Court of Appeals or the Arizona Supreme Court.
DISCLAIMER: The content of this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal advice. De Novo Law, LLC and its Legal Paraprofessionals are not attorneys and are not authorized to provide legal advice or representation beyond the areas and scope of practice for which license is held. The transmission or receipt of any electronic correspondence or information does not create a legal paraprofessional-client relationship.
Contact De Novo Law at any time to setup a free one-on-one consultation so we can discuss your concerns.
Please Call Us at (480) 725-2200 or Fill Out the Form Below to Schedule a FREE Initial Consultation with an Affordable Legal Paraprofessional to Assist with an Arizona Divorce or other Family Law Matters.