The Standing Committee on Paralegals has jurisdiction over matters relating to the education, employment, training and effective use of paralegals. Beginning as the Special Committee on Law Assistants for Lawyers in 1968, the Committee was charged with developing, encouraging and increasing the training and utilization of non-lawyer assistants to help lawyers discharge their professional responsibilities more effectively and efficiently. In 1971, the Special Committee on Law Assistants became the Special Committee on Legal Assistants. It was asked to develop standards for accreditation of formal education programs for legal paraprofessionals and to assess their proficiency. In August 1973 the ABA House of Delegates adopted the Guidelines for the Approval of Legal Assistant Education Programs. The House changed the status of the Committee from Special to Standing and officially approved the first eight legal assistant education programs in August 1975.
In the following few years, SCOLA, along with representatives from the National Association of Legal Assistants, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, the Association of American Law Schools and legal assistant educators worked together to recommend the formation of a commission to oversee the approval process. At the 1978 Annual Meeting the House of Delegates approved the creation of an approval commission to assume responsibility for the approval process. The composition of the Approval Commission has undergone modifications over the years and is currently composed of six attorney members, one general public member, three representatives from the American Association of Paralegal Education, one representative from NALA...the Paralegal Organization, one from the International Practice Management Association and one from the National Federation of Paralegal Associations. The thirteen-member Commission is tasked with the careful and comprehensive evaluation of a paralegal education program and its compliance with the Guidelines for the Approval of Paralegal Education Programs. Commissioners chair site visits, write site visit reports and make recommendations on approval or reapproval to the Standing Committee at bi-annual Commission meetings. There are currently 262 ABA approved paralegal education programs nationwide.
The Mission of the Standing Committee on Paralegals is to improve the delivery of legal services and expand access to justice by 1) establishing ABA standards for the education of paralegals and 2) promoting attorneys’ professional, effective and ethical utilization of paralegals.
Looking to the Future
We are underway on efforts to change the ABA’s official definition of paralegal to remove the term “legal assistant,” recognizing that we must continue to push forward the professional nomenclature of those who do paralegal work. We are embarking on a study of paralegal utilization, a task that was last taken on 20 years ago, to see how paralegals are making their impact in the profession. We must figure out how to respond to the development of non-lawyer, non-paralegal technicians, like Washington’s Limited License Legal Technician, that more and more states are considering. Big changes are afoot, and we look forward to the Standing Committee and the Approval Commission working closely with our constituents to tackle these issues and more.
Chris Jennison, Chair, Standing Committee on Paralegals Thomas E. McClure, Chair, Approval Commission