Paralegals have a vital – and growing – role to play in providing pro bono legal services to more than two million eligible North Carolinians.
Unfortunately, because of resource shortages, Legal Aid organizations are able to serve only 3 percent of clients in need.
That’s where groups like the NC Pro Bono Resource Center come in, says Rachel Royal, a board-certified paralegal and project manager at the center.
Most of the center’s cases do not require in-person representation and involve brief advice and counsel that can usually be delivered virtually. Volunteers are always needed.
“For approximately 1.2 million people, plus another 26% of North Carolina’s population who do not qualify for Legal Aid but still cannot afford an attorney, pro bono may be the only legal help they will ever receive,” Royal says.
Recently we conducted an e-interview with Royal, who has been a paralegal since 2015, working in the fields of family law, insurance defense and municipal law, before joining the Pro Bono Resource Center full-time earlier this year.
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Share a bit about your professional background and education: I earned my Associates in Paralegal Technology from Carteret Community College in 2017 and am currently completing a Bachelor of Paralegal Studies through Charter Oak State College with a projected graduation date of Spring 2024. I have been a North Carolina Certified Paralegal since 2017 and a NALA Certified Paralegal since 2021.
Tell us about the NC Pro Bono Center. The mission statement is: The North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center harnesses the power of volunteer legal professionals to target unmet legal needs by promoting, supporting, and developing pro bono opportunities.
I have worked with the Pro Bono Resource Center since January 2021, and I volunteered with the Center for a few years before that. As a Project Manager, I help manage the Driver’s License Restoration Project and the voluntary pro bono reporting process as well as provide technical project coordination support for the staff in general.
How has the concept and usage of paralegals changed over the years? The paralegal profession began in the 1970’s when the American Bar Association began researching ways to improve access to justice. In 1981, the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAFPE) was created. Around the same time, North Carolina’s first paralegal association, the Metrolina Paralegal Association, was formed. Later would come several other paralegal associations, including the North Carolina Bar Association’s Paralegal Division (formerly the Legal Assistant’s Division).
What exactly is a paralegal? In 1997, the ABA defined the terms paralegal or legal assistant as “a person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.”
Where to learn more about paralegal usage in North Carolina? Paralegal ethics in North Carolina are governed by the GUIDELINES FOR USE OF PARALEGALS IN RENDERING LEGAL SERVICES.
What are the parameters for paralegal usage in pro bono work? Paralegals are trained to assist attorneys with completing the work their clients’ cases require. However, while a paralegal might know what the correct answer is to a legal question, they may not ethically provide that to the client without the attorney’s approval. To do otherwise would constitute the practice of law. A paralegal can do pro bono work in the same capacity in which they do their regular work – under the supervision of an attorney.
The scope of paralegal work seems to be expanding nationwide. It is. Several states have recently recognized paralegals to be capable of performing limited legal representation. Arizona, Minnesota, Oregon, and Utah have existing limited licensing programs, and Oregon’s and New Hampshire’s programs under development. Colorado, New Mexico, New York, Vermont, Connecticut, and North Carolina have programs under consideration, and multiple other states are discussing the possibility of implementing programs. In North Carolina, the program under consideration was initiated by the North Carolina Justice for all Project and has a pending legislative proposal and policy analysis. In the states where these programs already exist, the data shows that there is an increase in access to justice for those who cannot afford an attorney’s fees, and there is no increased risk of public harm.
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