May 13, 2020
“Roles Beyond Lawyers” (RBL) is the phrase coined by the American Bar Foundation (ABF) and the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) to encapsulate all of those persons “who are not fully qualified attorneys [but] provide assistance…traditionally only available through lawyers.”
Also known as a Limited Legal License (LLL), proponents argue RBLs “consult with and advise clients, complete and file necessary court documents, assist pro se clients at certain types of hearings, and advise and participate in mediation, arbitration, and settlement conferences. They also help with court scheduling and support clients in navigating the legal system.” All of this serves to increase access to justice for those who would otherwise be navigating the halls of justice on their own.
Some are concerned loosening regulations could put the public at risk to unscrupulous persons, open the legal field up to the big four accounting firms, impact whether people are willing to tack on the cost of attending law school, and put small firms out of business. Those opposed also point out that a review of the U.K.’s Legal Services Act of 2007 which opened up legal services to nonlegal professionals found the law has “not sufficiently addressed consumer needs or improved access to justice.”
Along with ABF and the Public Welfare Foundation, NCSC performed a review of the early RBL programs in New York and Washington state. The report’s general conclusions about RBL programs included:
- People without formal legal training can provide meaningful assistance and services to litigants not represented by a lawyer;
- These services can impact several kinds of outcomes;
- The attitude of the court influences the scope and impact of RBL performers;
- The court environment and range of benefits and services within a jurisdiction impacts the legal outcomes of RBL actors; and
- RBL programs benefit from the use of plain language, standardized forms and software programs.
For more on RBL programs check out:
- NCSC’s March 2017 Preliminary Evaluation of the Washington State Limited License Legal Technician Program
- COCA’s 2018 Policy Paper: Courts Need to Enhance Access to Justice in Rural America
- New Self-Represented Services: Limited License Legal Technicians on page 35 of Court Manager, Volume 29, Issue 3, or watch the video from the 2014 NACM Annual Conference session of the same title.
- the State Justice Institute and IAALS report Cases without Counsel
For more information on this or other topics impacting state courts, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164.