On December 5, New Hampshire Legal Assistance presented a training on evidence skills for staff paralegals at NHLA, 603 Legal Aid, and Disability Rights Center-NH. The training session comes after passage of a new state pilot program – one of the first of its kind in the country – allowing paralegals to represent clients in court in certain cases. Participants received instruction and coaching from NHLA and 603 Legal Aid staff attorneys and Behzad Mirhashem, an Assistant Federal Public Defender and an adjunct professor of evidence at the UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law.

“We have to find new ways of getting civil legal services to people who need them,” said NHLA Executive Director Sarah Mattson Dustin. “In most states, including New Hampshire, there is less than one civil legal aid attorney for every 10,000 people with low income. Expanding the work that paralegals do is a big part of the solution.”

The first phase of the pilot program took effect January 1, and allows paralegals to assist qualifying clients with case preparation tasks (such as drafting pleadings, parenting plans, protection orders, and financial affidavits) in family and landlord/tenant matters. The second phase, which begins January 1, 2025, permits paralegals to provide what is being referred to as “paraprofessional representation” in family and district courts in Manchester, Berlin, and Franklin.

The program, sponsored by retired judge Rep. Ned Gordon (R-Bristol) and approved during the last state legislative session, is available to clients who earn up to 300% of the federal poverty level ($40,770 for a one person household, $54,930 for a two-person household). Participating paralegals must hold either a bachelor’s degree in any field or an associate degree in a law-related field, as well as at least two years of work experience in a law-related setting. They must also act under the supervision of an active attorney.