Expanding the Legal Services Ecosystem: An Educational Model to Improve Access to Immigration Justice Through Legal Paraprofessionals


Using disruptive innovation theory as a guidepost, this Article analyzes what is happening in the market for legal services and legal education. Disruption theory is also used to try to anticipate future developments in the market for legal education.

Guided by this theory, this Article discusses a new model of education about the law implemented in anticipation of inevitable changes in the market for legal education.The new online educational program is being modeled in the field of immigration law to train more students about immigration law with the goal of increasing the pool of people qualified to apply to become “accredited representatives,” and provide legal representation to immigrants pursuant to this limited license. Immigration law is an appropriate place to implement the new educational program because it is a sector of the legal services market in which the stakes of losing one’s legal case are high – loss can result in one’s deportation, separation from family members, and possible persecution upon return home — and in which many litigants appear in court without the benefit of legal representation. Moreover, a regulatory framework is already in place; long-standing federal regulations authorize paraprofessionals, “accredited representatives,” to enter their appearance and provide legal representation to immigrants in immigration court and before the Department of Homeland Security. Accredited through the Department of Justice (DOJ), these representatives provide legal service through non-profit organizations recognized by the DOJ.

Technological innovations coupled with a competency-based educational (CBE) approach provide an innovative way to distribute legal education and target areas of acute need and evident non-consumption in the marketplace for legal services and legal education. At a time when many law schools are considering ways to expand their student population and begin to reach new markets, online CBE offers many benefits. CBE is attractive to adult learners who appreciate the flexibility and accessibility of an online program that allows them to advance through the curriculum at their own pace and focus their learning in ways that are most meaningful and appropriate for them. Adult learners also appreciate a program that defines the competencies they are expected to master and allows students to work toward mastery, rather than requiring them to sit in a classroom or before a screen for a required number of hours listening to live lectures.

A CBE-focused model of legal education responds to disruption that is occurring in other areas of the legal services sector, including the growing trend to license additional categories of professionals to provide limited legal services. It recognizes that non-consumption exists in the marketplace for legal services and legal education and responds to that non-consumption by creating an educational model that is more accessible and convenient than the traditional in-place legal education. By starting in the area of immigration law, the program also responds to the especially acute access to justice issues in immigration law.




legal education, distance education, distance learning, legal services industry, paraprofessionals, disruption, online learning, online education, disruptive innovation


Immigration Law | Law | Legal Education