"view of downtown Salem, Oregon"This month, Oregon will join an increasing number of states licensing paralegals and other legal professionals who are not attorneys to provide discrete legal services in family and landlord/tenant law, which was previously only provided in Oregon by licensed lawyers. These professionals will be called Licensed Paralegals (“LPs” for short), though you can find them referenced by a myriad of other names across the country and in Canada. This is an exciting step for Oregon in a decades-long effort to see this initiative move forward through the bar and ultimately be approved by the Oregon Supreme Court.  

With more than 17 years as a paralegal, I have toiled on this issue for most of my legal career. I believe paralegals should be an integral part of any multipronged solution to the access to justice crisis facing Oregonians—and the rest of the country. This crisis leaves most individuals unable to obtain legal help or afford legal counsel, particularly in these two areas of law. 

After serving on several of the workgroups that shepherded this change, I am honored to have recently been appointed by the Oregon Supreme Court to serve as a Paralegal Assessor on the Committee of Paralegal Assessors (CoPA or “Committee” for short) for the Oregon State Bar. CoPA’s charge is like that of the bar’s Board of Bar Examiners in that we will review the LP applications to ensure the applicants meet the regulatory requirements for admission to the Oregon State Bar. 

In our new roles as Paralegal Assessors, many of the committee members are intimately familiar with the rules of the LP Program because we worked together on the committees that helped write the rules. This will be a huge benefit as we work to assess the applicants’ competencies as outlined in the rules. Additionally, because we have worked together for so long, the CoPA has great communication, works well together, and has mutual respect and admiration for each other. This is an invaluable asset as we begin our next journey. However, our perspectives have had to shift from working to find consensus on draft rules to now analyzing the work product and submissions of the applicants to ensure compliance with the rules to ensure the protection of the public. 

As a part-time paralegal educator, I am excited to capitalize on the skills I have gleaned using rubrics and portfolios to assess paralegal students in a fair and equitable manner. Similar to those student requirements, LP applicants are required to present a portfolio of work to the licensure board that demonstrates their competency to engage in activities within the scope of practice. They will need to be able to select and identify 12 different artifacts (also referred to as documents) as part of their portfolio submission, described in more detail below. They will also need to critically analyze and describe in detail how each artifact satisfies the required competency they selected for the artifact. This may be challenging for some of the applicants who may not have been exposed to this type of evaluation in the past. But thankfully, the rules have built in flexibility that allows the CoPA to work with applicants to cure deficiencies identified within their applications. Beginning this year in 2023, this portfolio-style assessment is also a means by which attorneys can be admitted to the Oregon State Bar without taking the Uniform Bar Exam or the Model of Professional Responsibility exam.

The application process—outlined below, including 1,500 of substantive paralegal experience—prepares applicants to obtain the quantity and quality of work necessary to fulfill the portfolio requirement. In addition to the educational, practical experience, portfolio of work, and testing requirements, applicants will undergo a character and fitness review. The CoPA’s role in this process will be to review specific assessments (after the initial review by the Bar’s Admissions team) to provide additional analysis. The committee may also need to make recommendations to the Oregon Supreme Court about the admission of specific candidates. 

I am excited and thrilled to see all the efforts put forth on this initiative come to fruition in this program, but understand that the hard part isn’t over yet. It will take a continued commitment by the bar, the bench, and the CoPA to ensure the program benefits Oregonians in a real and measurable way, as it takes time to get this type of program off the ground and running. In short, the committee’s charge is that of public protection, ensuring that “each applicant upholds the high standards expected of Licensed Paralegals by the bench, bar, and general public.” A key part of my role will be to bring my years of paralegal experience to bear to ensure that this standard is safeguarded, while advancing the access to justice objectives and diversity of applicants foundational in this pioneering program. 

If you are an experienced paralegal in Oregon—or satisfy any of the other foundational education requirements below—and are interested in finding out more, I encourage you to review the full requirements to apply for the LP program, which can be found on the Oregon State Bar’s website

Below is a summary of the Oregon Licensed Paralegal Program Application Requirements.

Foundational Education or Experience

Applicants must have at least one of the following: 

  • An associate’s degree or higher in paralegal studies from an accredited institution;
  • A bachelor’s degree or higher in any course of study;  
  • A juris doctor from an ABA-accredited law school; or
  • An approved education waiver.

Pre-Licensure Education Requirements

In addition, the applicant must complete 20 hours of specifically designated professional education during the 18 months prior to licensure, which includes such topics as: ethics, mandatory reporting, practice specific courses, and others. 

Recent Substantive Paralegal Experience 

Applicants must complete 1,500 hours of substantive paralegal experience during the 18 months prior to licensure (500 within the last 3 years), verified by their supervising attorney. For JD applicants, the hourly requirement is reduced to 750 hours of substantive paralegal experience. All applicants are also required to obtain specific experience in the practice area they are seeking licensure; 500 hours in family law and 250 in landlord/tenant. 

*Substantive paralegal experience requires knowledge of legal concepts and processes that are customarily, but not exclusively, performed by a lawyer and do not include administrative functions.

Examinations—A 3-Pronged Assessment

One of the assessment prongs is the submission of a Portfolio of work, which includes twelve different artifacts (or documents) “substantially completed by the applicant, for the applicant’s education or employment.” The CoPA will assess these artifacts against the program’s core competencies, which include categories such as: document production, negotiation, litigation, client communications, professional responsibility, legal writing, legal research, to name a few.

Once an applicant has successfully completed the Portfolio Assessment, there are two additional examinations they must complete. One focuses on legal ethics/professional responsibility, and the other on the LP license scope of practice. For the first cohort of applicants, both exams will be held on the same day, though it is possible that some Oregon colleges will develop an approved ethics course, or the National Conference of Bar Examiners could play an exam role. In that case, the ethics/professional responsibility assessment could change in the future.