The Access to Legal Services Working Group will present its final report on potential regulatory reforms designed to improve access to justice for low-income Texans during a meeting December 15 in Austin, according to an announcement Wednesday from the Texas Access to Justice Commission.
The working group was formed after the Supreme Court of Texas last year asked the commission to study existing rules and possible modifications that would:
- allow qualified non-attorney paraprofessionals to provide limited legal services directly to low-income Texans; and
- allow non-attorneys to have economic interests in entities that provide legal services to low-income Texans while preserving professional independence.
In response, the commission’s working group met throughout the year to study these issues and invited stakeholder input from the bench, the bar, community partners, and the public. The working group is expected to present its final report at the commission’s next meeting, scheduled for 10 a.m. CST on Friday, December 15.
On Wednesday, the working group’s 64-page report was published at https://www.texasatj.org/december-2023-texas-access-justice-commission-meeting. During the December 15 meeting, the commission plans to take public comments on the report before discussing and potentially voting on its recommendations to the Supreme Court. Protocols for participating in the meeting are posted at the link above, which also includes all the working group’s past meeting agendas, materials, and videos.
The report includes recommendations starting on Page 40 and proposed rule modifications attached as Appendix A. As published in the report’s executive summary, the working group’s recommendations to the commission include the following:
- Focus on low-income Texans. For the purposes of the proposals in this report, “low income” is defined as at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines as determined by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
- Authorize Supreme Court-licensed (1) paraprofessionals to represent and assist low-income Texans with certain matters in certain areas of the law and (2) Community Justice Workers to provide limited-scope representation in justice court cases, under the supervision of an attorney working for a legal aid entity or other nonprofit entity.
- Create rules, qualifications, licensing, and disciplinary infrastructure within the Judicial Branch Certification Commission (JBCC) to ensure paraprofessionals have the necessary training, skill, and oversight to deliver quality services while protecting the public.
- Create a pilot program, regulated and overseen by the Judicial Branch Certification Commission and the Supreme Court, that permits non-attorney ownership under an exception to Texas Disciplinary Rule of Professional Conduct 5.04 for entities that demonstrate a business model that provides services to low-income Texans and includes infrastructure to protect clients and ensure attorney independence.
Among other topics, the report addresses regulatory reform in the U.S. and beyond, summarizes stakeholder feedback, and explains the working group’s recommendations.