Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



In its campaigns against trust companies, banks, title companies,real estate agents, and accountants, the bar has loftily rested its unauthorized practice challenges on protection of the public interest by claiming that lay personnel lack the trained legal skills of the lawyer. On the other hand, counsel who have represented the targets of these attacks have maintained that the bar has been largely guided by self-interest arising from concern over the profession's loss of work as the public has tended more and more to accept the services of the lay practitioners...At the root of the problem, the bar's loss of legal business is attributable primarily to the element of expense rather than comparability in the caliber of service. An accountant can and does prepare income tax returns for a fraction of what many lawyers must charge to cover their time investments,' and a real estate agent will represent his client at settlement without charge, accepting the sales commission as sufficient compensation for his entire service. Lawyers' charges in these and other areas, almost invariably large by comparison, discourage prospective clients who remain unimpressed by an explanation of the high expense involved in operating a law office.The current cost differential has assumed such significance that some lawyers have concluded that they ought to take advantage of it by hiring trained laymen to reduce their cost of operation, and their charges to clients as well. This has resulted in the expansion of lay staffs and the creation of lay positions carrying new and greater responsibilities.The semiprofessional status of these employees has been recognized by designating them "paralegals," "paraprofessionals," or "legal assistants." In light of the continuing efforts by the bar to curtail the practice of law by lay agencies, the fact that the propriety of these developments is being challenged and that arguments used in the effort to discredit group legal services are being heard again is not surprising. For example, it is said that the employment of paralegals will lead to commercialization of the profession and violation of the attorney-client relationship. Furthermore, the use of lay assistance is condemned as unfair and injurious to both the public and to lawyers." This article will consider the validity of some of these fears and the long-term impact that the employment of paralegals may have on the profession.