Legal Paraprofessionals in Divorce and Custody Cases
Legal paraprofessional is a term coming up more and more as both lawyers and people with legal issues turn to them for help.
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What is a legal paraprofessional?
The phrase legal paraprofessional refers to nonlawyers who work in law. It includes paralegals, law clerks and more.
In general, a legal paraprofessional helps lawyers or judges with tasks that don't require licensing or a Juris Doctor degree — like doing research and drawing up documents.
Licensed legal paraprofessional (LLP) means something slightly different. This new position has been created in a few U.S. states to provide more affordable legal help. Some states use slightly different names, e.g., licensed paralegal practitioner in Utah.
In general, LLPs must pass an exam. They also have to meet requirements for education and/or time working at a law firm.
Since they are licensed, LLPs are allowed to take on more tasks than unlicensed legal paraprofessionals and can open their own practices.
Legal paraprofessional versus paralegal
Paralegals are a type of legal paraprofessional. Many have a paralegal degree or certificate. While they cannot give legal advice or represent clients, they may handle basic interactions with clients and do important behind-the-scenes work on cases.
Paralegals cannot work without supervision by a lawyer, whereas legal paraprofessionals who are licensed usually can (depending on state law).
Licensed legal paraprofessionals in divorce and custody cases
If you have a family law case that is fairly typical, an LLP can be a great way to get legal help without paying as much as you would for an attorney. For example, an LLP can help you write a divorce settlement agreement or represent you in custody mediation.
The concept of licensing legal paraprofessionals arose to help middle-income people who can't afford lawyers but don't qualify for free representation. This is especially common in family law, an area in which huge numbers of litigants end up representing themselves. The hope is that LLPs help people who would otherwise have gone without legal advice — and that, with an LLP navigating their case with them, those people avoid legal mistakes.
Where you can find LLPs
Across the states that license legal paraprofessionals, you'll find a few dozen in practice. They have restrictions that lawyers don't.
- In Utah, they can represent people in mediation but not in court.
- In Arizona, they can represent people in both mediation and court, but they can't handle appeals or cases with certain complexities (e.g., division of commercial property in a divorce).
- In Minnesota's pilot program, they must have supervision from a lawyer to represent or advise family law clients. (In this, they resemble paralegals.)
New Hampshire, Oregon and Colorado have recently begun licensing LLPs too.
Washington state is no longer licensing new legal paraprofessionals, but people who are already licensed may continue to practice. They're called limited license legal technicians, aka legal technicians or LLLTs. They can represent clients and provide legal advice in family law cases and certain other types of cases.
Bills regularly appear in other U.S. states to let licensed legal paraprofessionals practice law there. South Carolina, North Carolina, New Mexico, Connecticut and California are considering allowing this.
The technology legal paraprofessionals use
Family law paraprofessionals use a number of tools to help them organize cases and prepare documents.
One of those tools is available to parents too: Custody X Change.
The Custody X Change online app helps parents and professionals:
- Create parenting plans
- Calculate custody time
- Track child-related expenses
- Gather information into an evidence journal
- And more
Link accounts with your LLP to use Custody X Change together, or use it on your own.
Either way, take advantage of the technology the professionals use so you get what's best for your children.