ARIZONA, USA — Holding her State Bar of Arizona card, Stephanie Villalobos smiles, running her fingers over its face.
“So proud of my bar card, so proud of it,” Villalobos said. “Never thought this could happen.”
The card identifies her as a legal paraprofessional in Arizona. Her State Bar number: 50001.
“I am Arizona’s very first licensed legal paraprofessional,” Villalobos said.
To get to this point, you have to go back more than 30 years, when Villalobos wanted to go into the FBI.
“It just wasn’t a profession that was conducive to having small children and having a family,” Villalobos said. “So I decided to go into the legal field.”
Villalobos said she spent more than 30 years as a paralegal.
“Essentially the last 15 years I have done associate-level type work, under the guidance and supervision of the attorneys, of course, but it gave me experience and knowledge to get me where I am today,” Villalobos said.
Over that time, she helped clients like Rudy Castro.
“I can’t say enough about how much a big help she was to me,” Castro said.
Now she’ll be able to help more people under her new title at De Novo Law.
“Arizona is at the forefront of this groundbreaking legal reform,” Villalobos said.
The Arizona Supreme Court’s Board of Nonlawyer Legal Service Providers approved Villalobos and nine others as the first group of legal paraprofessionals in Arizona at the end of 2021.
Now, the legal paraprofessional directory lists a total of 14 people licensed in Arizona.
The new title allows those with legal experience to practice in certain areas of the law after passing exams.
The Arizona Supreme Court said legal paraprofessionals can practice in the areas of family law, limited jurisdiction civil, limited jurisdiction criminal, and administrative law.
The idea is to narrow the justice gap. The Arizona Supreme Court’s Task Force on Legal Delivery Services found that "legal aid organizations are able to satisfy less than half of those that request legal help."
“One could expect to pay roughly half of what they pay an attorney,” Villalobos said. ”That's a significant difference for someone who can't afford an attorney and is either just not getting the legal help they need or is trying to do it on their own.”
The task force also found that the greatest need is in family law, which is Villalobos’ focus.
“I feel truly blessed to be able to help people in a higher capacity now,” Villalobos said.
Villalobos said she’s ready to help represent people who need a different option for their legal issues. Hoping to see the legal paraprofessional grow in number in Arizona and across the country.
“We’re here now to help. We are here with that option,” Villalobos said.
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