As the legal profession reinvents itself in a changing economy and low- and moderate-income citizens demand equal access to justice, a new profession has emerged: document preparers (also known as legal technicians or document specialists).
Document preparers go by many names. For example, in the state of California, these professionals call themselves "legal document assistants" or LDAs. According to the California Association of Document Assistants:
"An LDA is an experienced professional who is authorized to prepare legal documents for a client, but only at the direction of the client. In other words, an LDA is there to assist the 'self-help' client handle their own legal matters without the cost of an attorney. Since even the best legal, self-help books can be confusing and overwhelming, your LDA can provide invaluable assistance with routine legal tasks, such as typing and filing the paperwork for uncontested divorces, bankruptcies, wills, and many other types of documents."
This new crop of legal service providers are both a boon and a danger to consumers of legal services.
On one hand, they offer a much-needed affordable alternative to legal services; by offering rates at a fraction of what an attorney would charge, document preparers can help meet the needs of low- and moderate-income citizens who cannot afford lawyers' fees. The availability of lower-cost legal assistance might help reign in spiraling legal fees since lawyers would no longer have a monopoly on the law.
On the other hand, some document preparers could do more harm than good. If the document preparer suggests what forms a client might need or offers advice in preparing the form, and if these actions involve legal judgment or know-how, such actions might constitute giving legal advice and the unauthorized practice of law. Unlike paralegals, who operate under the supervision of a lawyer, these professionals are non-lawyers who operate independently. Sometimes a little knowledge is dangerous and non-lawyers who provide guidance on legal issues may unwittingly guide a client down the wrong path.
What do you think?