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Board tables action on ‘Advanced Florida Registered Paralegal’ concept

Senior Editor Top Stories

Board of Governors SealAfter months of study, the Board of Governors has decided to postpone weighing in on an Access to Civil Justice Commission proposal to create an “Advanced Florida Registered Paralegal.”

At a June 17 video-conference meeting, the board voted unanimously to postpone accepting a Rules Committee recommendation that the board “generally” support the proposal, which is designed to expand access to justice.

The support, however, was conditioned on the Access Commission meeting with the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law, and Family Law sections, as well as the Florida Registered Paralegal Enrichment Committee, to address a host of concerns.

“These include concerns about law mills being created, perhaps limiting the number of AFRPs,” being overseen by a single supervising attorney, said Rules Committee Chair Amy Farrior, citing just two conditions the committee identified.

The other conditions, according to a staff analysis, included “addressing the competence standards to which a supervising attorney would be held, addressing the term by which an AFRPs will be known, (giving consideration to the term ‘verified’ as suggested by the FRP Enrichment Committee,) addressing whether the term ‘wills’ will be further defined, (such as the drafting of simple wills,) and requiring that 50% of the AFRP continuing education be in the area in which the AFRP is providing services.”

The proposal would create the AFRP designation as part of the Florida Registered Paralegal Program created by Chapter 20 of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar.

The AFRPs would be authorized — under the supervision of a lawyer — to assist clients who engage a law firm for limited representation help in family law, landlord/tenant, guardianship, wills, advance directives, or debt collection defense matters.

Board member Laird Lile called to table the matter, saying he was uncomfortable with the Access Commission’s unusual request for “conceptual” approval.

“I don’t understand what this is doing before us now,” Lile said. “The Rules Committee has worked very hard and had a very big tent to allow a lot of comments…but I don’t know what the end result is now.”

Other board members said they shared Lile’s concern.

President-elect Dori Foster-Morales said her colleagues in the Family Law Section had “very real concerns” and that she didn’t want to extend even conditional support without knowing whether the board would get another chance to review a final version.

Public Member Sharon Middleton, a registered nurse and certified health education specialist, called an AFRP the legal profession’s equivalent of the nursing profession’s “care extenders.”

“I am very supportive of the Access to Civil Justice Commission,” she said. “There is a dire need for legal services for a large population of the residents of Florida.”

But APRNs, or advanced practice registered nurse, and PAs, or physicians assistants, require advanced degrees to earn their designations, Middleton said.

“Those are distinct degrees, typically master’s, two years, requiring a rigorous, multi-hour exam in order to become certified, to then be supervised by a physician, or what capacity you might find yourself,” she said.

Board member Michael Orr said he was “struggling” with granting “conceptual approval,” too.

“We all on the committee were thinking, why are we discussing this and what’s being asked of us?” he said. “Did they just want us to give them the general thumbs up?”

President Stewart said he was merely responding to the Access Commission’s request.

“It happened a little backward,” he said. “I think they were trying to get, in general, if they were going to push this, would the board support this.”

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