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From classroom to courtroom

UA students can now become part of the solution to Arizona’s legal desert problem

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(Courtesy of Kristy Clairmont)

A new program at the University of Arizona will equip students with the training and knowledge necessary to begin practicing law as a licensed legal paraprofessional immediately upon graduating. These students will help fulfill the desperate need for legal professionals in Arizona, which has been labelled a legal desert.

A legal paraprofessional is an individual who is licensed to provide legal services only in certain areas of law. In Arizona, these areas are family law, limited jurisdiction civil cases, limited jurisdiction criminal cases where no jail time is involved and state administrative law, according to the Arizona Supreme Court.

The relationship between legal paraprofessionals and lawyers is similar to the relationship between nurse practitioners and doctors. LPs and NPs complete different educational pathways and levels of training than lawyers and doctors; consequently, they have different responsibilities and are limited in what they are legally allowed to do.

According to Kristy Clairmont, the program coordinator for the legal paraprofessional program at the UA, some of the legal services that LPs can provide include “drafting, signing, and filing legal documents; providing advice, opinions, or recommendations about legal rights, remedies, defenses, options, or strategies; appear before a court or tribunal on behalf of a client; and negotiate for a client in their area of practice.”

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The UA offers two primary pathways to become a legal paraprofessional,

Undergraduates pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Law can choose to follow the LP track, in which they will take the courses necessary to qualify for a license as a legal paraprofessional. Similarly, graduate students enrolled in the UA’s Master of Legal Studies program can choose the LP concentration to take the requisite courses.

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The Arizona Supreme Court approved the B.A. in Law as a qualifying educational pathway to become licensed as an LP on December 16, 2021. This is the only B.A. program for law in the country at the time of this report.

The creation of a legal paraprofessional license is especially timely because Arizona is a legal desert ­– an area where there aren’t enough legal professionals to meet the needs of the population.

According to data from the American Bar Association, Two-thirds of the counties in Arizona have fewer than one lawyer per 1,000 residents. Statewide, there is an average of about 2.2 lawyers for every 1,000 residents.

This number is below the national average of about 3.4 lawyers per 1,000 residents.

Furthermore, additional data from the ABA and the 2020 U.S. Census Bureau reveals that Greenlee County has 0.42 lawyers per 1,000 residents, the least of all Arizona counties, followed by Graham (0.47), Pinal (0.48) and Apache (0.53). Maricopa and Pima have the most lawyers per 1,000 residents, at 2.76 and 2.11 respectively.


This visualization was created using data from the American Bar Association's “Profile of the Legal Profession” and 2020 data from the U.S Census Bureau.

The lack of adequate or accessible access to legal representation is important because in some cases, it may mean lack of access to justice.

An article published in Harvard Law & Policy Review states that individuals who live in legal deserts “may fail to know their legal rights or to recognize that legal recourse may be available for a particular problem.”

In practice, this may mean that it is more likely that tenants will face eviction and individuals with disabilities are more likely to go without public benefits or employment.  Additionally, research suggests that individuals in positions of power may take advantage of weak legal representation to exploit vulnerable populations.

UA students now have the opportunity to provide legal representation, address the issues facing those in legal deserts and, hopefully, turn Arizona into a legal oasis.


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