Career & Practice

Oregon bar considering paraprofessional licensing and bar-takers without JDs

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The Oregon State Bar's board of governors took major steps to liberalize rules around paraprofessional licensing and allowing people without law degrees to sit for the bar exam.

During a meeting Sept. 27, the board of governors approved recommendations from two separate bar task forces that are intended to increase access to justice in the Beaver state. The first recommendation is for a paraprofessional licensing program would allow licensed individuals to provide limited legal advice without a supervising attorney, according to the board of governors’ agenda.

To qualify, an individual would need to be at least 18 years old, pass a national certification exam, and either have an associate’s degree from an ABA-approved or institutionally accredited paralegal studies program or a JD or have 1,500 hours of experience as a paralegal under an attorney’s supervision.

“The most compelling argument for licensing paraprofessionals is that the bar’s other efforts to close the access-to-justice gap have continued to fall short,” reads the Oregon State Bar’s Futures Task Force 2017 Executive Summary report, which recommended the program for adoption. “We must broaden the options available for persons seeking to obtain legal services, while continuing to strive for full funding of legal aid and championing pro bono representation by lawyers.”

Versions of a paraprofessional program exist in Utah and Washington. California is considering a similar proposal.

The other notable recommendation would allow people without ABA-accredited law degrees sit for the Oregon State Bar exam.

Recommended by the Oregon State Bar’s Alternative Pathways Taskforce Committee in a 2016 report (starting at PDF page 115), the proposal would allow a person with at least a bachelor’s degree, good moral character, and who has completed a four-year mentorship program in a law office, legal department or court sit for the bar and be licensed in the state.

The committee notes that taking part in the four-year program could cost between $12,000 and $18,000, significantly lower than then $35,000 per year a resident would pay at the University of Oregon School of Law. (Disclosure: the author is a non-resident graduate of the University of Oregon School of Law.) Lower costs could, the committee believes, lead to a more diverse practicing bar in the state.

California, Maine, New York, Washington, Vermont and Virginia already allow people without three-year law degrees to sit for their state bar exams.

The next step will be to create detailed proposals and regulations relating to each of the two above recommendations. All proposals would have to be approved by the Oregon Supreme Court before going into effect.

This is a developing story.

Correction made Oct. 8 to the cost of a University of Oregon law degree. We regret the mistake.

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