Your Next Advocate in an Arizona Court May Not Be a Lawyer

Dec. 17, 2021

University of Arizona Law aims to ease the justice gap by training a new tier of legal professionals.

University of Arizona Old Main Building

Undergraduate students at the University of Arizona can now simultaneously earn a Bachelor of Arts in Law and become qualified for licensure as a legal paraprofessional (LP) through a first-in-the-nation program created to expand the options for Arizonans looking for affordable legal representation. The pathway – approved by an administrative order from the Arizona Supreme Court on December 16 – is one of three different educational avenues offered by the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law for individuals looking to enter this field.

Earlier this year, the Court approved the legal paraprofessional program on the recommendation of the Task Force For Legal Services Delivery, which conducted a review of approaches employed nationally and internationally to deliver legal services. The LP program allows candidates qualified by education, training, and licensing, to provide legal advice and advocate for clients within a designated scope of practice.

The creation of this new tier of licensed legal professionals came in response to a state-wide need to improve access to justice. A recent survey conducted in Arizona found that more than half of respondents were not able to access the legal help they needed, and more than 75% of court cases in the state involve one self-represented party. The rate of lawyers per capita in Arizona is also among the lowest in the country with only 2.1 lawyers per 1,000 residents as noted in 2020. Nationally, legal representation continues to remain prohibitively expensive, contributing to what many have termed the ‘justice gap’. Other states, including California, New Mexico, Colorado, New York, and Nevada are considering their own proposals. 

There are two main routes to LP licensure: experiential and educational. The BA in Law—a degree delivered in partnership between University of Arizona Law and the School of Government and Public Policy—creates an additional educational pathway to qualify for licensure. In addition to the degree requirements, students completing the program will choose LP track required courses related to their chosen practice area.

After meeting the educational and/or experiential requirements, LP applicants must pass a state-administered examination in each area of law in which they intend to practice. These "endorsement" areas include family law, limited jurisdiction civil cases, limited jurisdiction criminal cases where no jail time is involved, and administrative law. 

For undergraduate degree holders, the Master of Legal Studies Legal Paraprofessional Concentration is also available, as is an accelerated MLS program for qualified BA in Law students. Currently University of Arizona has the only MLS Concentration and approved BA program in the state providing the educational pathway to become an LP, with additional programs in development to include both a graduate and undergraduate LP certificate.

“University of Arizona Law has been a pioneer in access to justice, and the BA in Law and MLS programs were designed to provide a legal education, at an affordable price, to a broader range of legal professionals than ever before,” says Professor Keith Swisher, director of the BA and MLS programs. “Through the support and innovation of the University and the Court, and with the dedicated work of the new, full-time program lead, Kristy Clairmont, we welcome future legal paraprofessionals. Once they finish one of our unique educational programs and obtain their license to practice law, we believe that they will serve low- and middle-income Arizonans in need of key legal services.”  

For more information on the new pathway or existing educational opportunities visit the legal paraprofessional page.