The Texas Access to Justice Commission met December 15 to consider the report from the commission’s Access to Legal Services Working Group. After accepting public comment and discussion among the commissioners, the commission voted to approve the following recommendations from the working group’s report:
- Authorize Supreme Court of Texas-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. (“Low income” is defined as at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines as determined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.)
- Create rules, qualifications, licensing, and disciplinary infrastructure within the Judicial Branch Certification Commission to ensure paraprofessionals have the necessary training, skill, and oversight to deliver quality services while protecting the public.
The Access to Justice Commission voted against the working group’s other proposal, which would 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.
The full report of the commission’s Access to Legal Services Working Group is available here, along with all the working group’s past meeting agendas, materials, and videos. Video from the December 15 meeting can be viewed on YouTube here.
To submit comments on these issues, please email email@example.com.
The working group was formed after the Supreme Court in October 2022 directed 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 2023 to study these issues and invited stakeholder input from the bench, the bar, community partners, and the public.