Since paralegals are often unlicensed, and thus unregulated, they are usually defined in somewhat reductive terms, mainly in the means by which their actions in the legal industry are restrained and restricted.
The central belief behind this mandate is that attorneys are licensed, having passed a local bar exam, and are ultimately responsible for the strategy implemented that directs paralegals, and who must ultimately place their name on any work completed by a paralegal, thus giving them a level of ownership by oversight.
However, there are jurisdictions where paralegals have historically been allowed to practice outside of an attorney’s supervision, usually in the role of aiding in document preparation.
Very few jurisdictions have gone on to license independent paralegals, with California being the main example in its licensing of Legal Document Assistants, who are allowed to operate outside to an attorney’s purview only after they have undergone legal training and been certified and bonded by the state.
The desire for some paralegals and paralegal representative organizations to operate outside the supervision of an attorney has played a core role in the debate of whether there should be widespread licensing of paralegals.
An argument for this is that licensing can do a far better job regulating the standard of paralegals entering into the industry, allowing this improved standard of paralegal services to be able to operate more autonomously.
A direct advantage of removing attorney supervision, is that those that are for licensing and against mandated attorney supervision, is that it can open up the level of legal care available to lower class, lower income parties.
The belief that licensing can provide paralegals with greater autonomy to provide legal services directly to consumers and clients who were otherwise restricted access to them on economic grounds. Therefore, the central idea is that licensing paralegals on a more widespread basis could benefit the standards and availability of the law.
The argument against licensing in place of a mandated supervision is predicated on the belief that the origins of the paralegal profession were based on supplementing, not supplanting, the work of attorneys, and their their role in the legal system. To them, licensing represents a means of regulating the overall quality of legal work, and to that end, it remains vital that paralegals remain under attorney supervision.