Category: Paralegal

Are Licensed Paralegal Practitioners a good idea?

I just received and responded to a survey from Alyx Mark, assistant professor at Wesleyan University and a law and society scholar. After completing the survey, I sent this e-mail to Professor Mark:

Professor Mark,

I just completed your survey on the Utah LPP (Licensed Paralegal Practitioner) program.

I am not an LPP. I have never been an LPP. I am a divorce and family lawyer and have been for 25 years.

I do not employ any LPPs and never have. I do not have any financial interest in the success of the LPP program. I would benefit personally were there no LPPs, but I do not oppose the LPP program. I support it because I support reducing the costs associated with access to justice. I support the LPP program and its development and refinement. I know that I am rare among divorce and family lawyers in that regard. I support it because I believe in progress and believe in the free market as one of the best engines of progress, especially in the provision of legal advice and services.

The access to legal information (and advice) on the Internet has destroyed much of what made lawyers special and valuable when the only practical access to such knowledge was to go to law school, learn it, and remember it.

I know that most divorce and family lawyers who oppose LPPs do so out of self-interest and not a burning desire to ensure that the public gets the best legal advice possible. Consequently, lawyers who oppose the LPP program and others like it in other jurisdictions know they can’t public state their real reasons for their opposition  because nobody would listen and worse, telling people “you need lawyers, not LPPs, because lawyers need a monopoly” without engendering even more loathing and distrust for the legal profession than already exists. And so the arguments lawyers try to make to persuade the profession and the public to oppose the LPP program are as transparently lame as they are self-serving.

There are legitimate concerns about opening the practice of law to people less educated in the law, but few practicing lawyers oppose LPP programs on that basis.

As I have stated since the LPP program was proposed: lawyers had every opportunity to maintain their monopoly by providing the services the public wants and need in a manner and at a price the public wants, but the lawyers got complacently greedy. When the lawyers stopped offering a service the public was willing to pay for, the market looked elsewhere.

Would you share your survey results with me when you complete it?


Eric K. Johnson,

Utah Family Law, LC

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277  

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 2: Pile higher and deeper

Last week I reported that I am a complete neophyte when it comes to the practice of law (this is my second week as a legal assistant), and that remains true this week. There have been several surprises as to the ins and outs of the legal system. One of the most surprising to me is the amount of paperwork that goes into a legal proceeding.

The sheer number of papers that must be piled up (and continue to pile up) in the record rooms of courts, law offices, and the storage space on the servers is staggering.

My boss asked me to document my observations during this time (one in a lifetime time) while I see with “fresh eyes”, and it appears to me that the amount of red tape and hoop jumping required is more a matter of accreted conventions than necessity. Many documents or processes that may have had a purpose in the past have outlived their usefulness.

Clearly, there is a need to record and document certain things in almost any important human undertaking. I also concede I don’t know how everything works or why, so there may be reasons for the I don’t understand. But as I am experiencing it, the amount of paperwork seems inexplicably and unnecessarily slow, duplicative, and burdensome (and as a result, unnecessarily expensive).

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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Why is my lawyer ignoring me?

Why is my lawyer ignoring me?

There are many possible reasons. Lawyers are notorious for being hard to reach and for being unresponsive and nonresponsive.

If you aren’t paying your lawyer, don’t be surprised if you’re being ignored and don’t wonder why.

But if you are paying your lawyer (in full and on time), there are still many possible (common) reasons could include, in descending order of the most likely explanations:

  1. Your lawyer has way too many open cases and has thus rendered himself or herself unable to give you and your case the attention they both require.
  2. Your lawyer is incompetent, and so your lawyer avoids your calls and emails to avoid having to do hard work and/or give you bad news about how he or she has screwed up.
  3. Your lawyer is lazy and thus does not respond to you in a timely manner.
  4. Your lawyer doesn’t care about your case enough to give it the attention it requires.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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Are older lawyers better?

Are older lawyers better?

If by “older” you mean lawyers who are not fresh out of law school, the answer is: almost always yes.

They don’t teach you how to practice law in law school, they teach you how to read, research, understand, and interpret the law in law school. Law schools are getting better at providing more “clinical” experiences to law students, but law students fresh out of law school typically don’t know how to draft pleadings, prepare a case, negotiate a good settlement, and argue a case in court. I didn’t when I passed the bar. I had to learn all that through “on the job training”.

Some law students get clerkships or internships during law school that do a superb job of showing these student the ropes, so that by the time they pass the bar they have one or two years’ real-world experience in the practice of law. And some other law students are just so naturally talented and driven and autodidactic that they take to learning the practice of law like a duck takes to water.

Some say that attorneys need about 5-7 years in full-time practice before they really know what they are doing. I think that’s a good rule of thumb. Don’t pass over the less experienced prodigies if you can find them, however (and finding them will take some effort on your part). Exceptional newbies are the best value because they’re skilled yet priced lower than attorneys who have been in practice longer (notice my choice of words here: “been in practice longer” is not synonymous with “more experienced”; simply having a law license year over year doesn’t make you a skilled lawyer, so find out how active an attorney is before choosing on the basis of how long he/she got his/her law license. An attorney who has been licensed for 15 years and has no clients isn’t likely a good choice).

If by “older” you mean lawyers who are a few years short of retirement or death, then the answer is: almost always no. As with many activities, the effective practice of law is not for the old and infirm. If you don’t have the stamina to do the reading and writing and court appearances, you’re almost surely going to lose the case. Attorneys who are so old they’re forgetting details are not going to do your case any favors. Moreover, a lot of very old attorneys get jaded or complacent, lacking that fire in the belly that they need to have to motivate them to do their best work. They start coasting on their “experience,” letting their paralegal and office staff handle more and more of a case, rather than putting in the work your case needs to succeed.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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What is the difference between a lawyer and a consultant?

Anyone can call himself or herself a consultant. It requires no special training, no special test or certification or license. One can be a “legal consultant” without having gone to law school, without having taken the bar exam, and without having a law license. But that consultant cannot practice law. In my jurisdiction (Utah), one cannot practice law without a license. What “practice law” means, however, is is always in flux. Just when it seems that a good definition of “practice of law” is formulated, somebody finds a legitimate exception.

There are millions of people who are not lawyers but who nevertheless have extensive legal knowledge. Your accountant must know and understand a substantial body of law and regulations. He/she can even explain these laws to you and give certain kinds of (what we have to concede constitutes) “legal advice” based upon this knowledge. But only lawyers are allowed to perform certain tasks or provide certain kinds of legal advice.

Many non-lawyers can provide many kinds of useful legal information and services. Depending upon what the laws and regulations are in your jurisdiction, it may be perfectly legal and perfectly safe for you to get legal forms from a non-lawyer and even “clerical” help and information (as opposed to “specific legal advice”) in filling them out.

Bottom line: If you need a lawyer, don’t hire a consultant. Both you and the consultant could get burned. If you want to play it safe when it comes to assurances that you are getting real legal representation and advice from someone qualified to practice law, hire a lawyer.

To know who is and is not a lawyer, inquire with your jurisdiction’s bar association or whatever the entity in your jurisdiction is that keeps track of licensed lawyers. If the person you are contemplating hiring as a lawyer is not on the list, you may be dealing with an impostor.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

The Proposed Licensed Paralegal Practitioner Rules – Utah Supreme Court

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