Non-Lawyer? More Like Non-Starter: Why Using the Term Is a Jab at Equality and Dignity”

By Chere B. Estrin

Legal Apartheid: The Poisonous Impact of the ‘Non-Lawyer’ Label on Professional Equality

There is a petition going around to strike the term “non-lawyer” from use by the ABA. I can’t help but stick my two cents in:

“The use of the term “non-lawyer” creates an artificial hierarchy within the legal profession. It implicitly suggests that only licensed attorneys hold value or expertise within the legal realm, while others are relegated to a subordinate status.”  Rich BrackenDeAnna PapedisLegal io


In the intricate world of law, where language holds immense power, the term “non-lawyer” stands out not for its inclusivity, but for its exclusivity. It’s a label that reeks of hierarchy, casting those it describes into a shadow of what they are not, rather than illuminating what they are. This linguistic relic perpetuates a caste system within legal support roles, unjustly positioning certain professionals as secondary to the omnipotent “lawyer”.

The use of “non-lawyer” is not merely a matter of semantics; it’s a symptom of a broader issue within the legal profession. By prefixing roles with “non”, we implicitly suggest that the only significant figure in the legal landscape is the lawyer. Paralegals, legal assistants, and other support staff are relegated to a subordinate position by the very language used to describe them.

Consider the qualifications and expertise of many individuals labeled as “non-lawyers”. They hold degrees, certifications, and sometimes even post-graduate qualifications. They bring a wealth of knowledge and skill to their roles, often serving as indispensable members of legal teams. Yet, despite their contributions, they are reduced to a prefix that diminishes their status and importance.

Furthermore, the argument that the term is necessary for clarity falls short upon scrutiny. The public is not as simplistic as some may suggest. They are capable of understanding and adapting to new terminology. Just as “legal secretary” evolved into “legal assistant” and now “legal support specialist”, so too can we move beyond the limitations imposed by the term “non-lawyer”.

Moreover, the evolution of terminology within the legal profession itself demonstrates the malleability of language and its capacity to reflect changing attitudes. As “legal secretary” gave way to “legal assistant” and eventually “legal support specialist”, so too can we discard the outdated and divisive label of “non-lawyer”.

Ultimately, the eradication of “non-lawyer” isn’t just about semantics; it’s about equality and respect within the legal profession. It’s about recognizing the invaluable contributions of all members of the legal team, regardless of their title or prefix. It’s about dismantling the caste system that relegates certain individuals to a position of lesser importance.

So, let us move beyond “non-lawyer” and embrace a more inclusive and empowering language that reflects the true value of every individual within the legal profession. Only then can we truly achieve equality and respect for all.


About the Author

Chere Estrin has over 20 years of experience in the staffing arena, including executive positions in law firms, litigation support companies, and the legal staffing divisions of a $5billion publicly held corporation. She is CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a nationwide staffing organization. Ms. Estrin was founder of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute, an online CLE organization. She publishes the prestigious digital magazine, KNOW, the Magazine for Paralegals, and is the former Editor-in-Chief of Sue, the Magazine for Women Litigators. She is also the author of 10 books about legal careers for attorneys and legal professionals.

Ms. Estrin’s contributions to the legal industry have been significant, and she continues to play an active role in shaping the future of legal staffing and training. She writes the popular,

award-winning blog, The Estrin Report, and has been interviewed by CBS News along with many top publications, such as The Wall Street JournalFortune Magazine, Forbes.com, Los Angeles Times, Entrepreneur Magazine, Newsweek, The Chicago Tribune, The Daily Journal, ABA Journal, Above the Law, ALM, Law360 and many others. She has also been a speaker for many prestigious organizations and written hundreds of articles.

As the Co-Founding Member and President of the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP), Ms. Estrin has guided the association’s development and implementation of the eDiscovery and Litigation Support certification exams (first in the country) along with Pearson Publications, a $7 billion corporation specializing in certification exams and educational publishing. She was also the Education Director designing, creating and executing online, live training programs with an on-call roster of over 500 instructors throughout the world. Currently, she provides webinars on legal career matters for LawPractice and Lawline, two of the largest attorney CLE online training organizations.
Ms. Estrin is a co-founding member of the International Practice Management Association (IPMA) and the Organization of Legal Professionals, composed of a prestigious Board of Governors inclusive of judges, an ABA President, and well-known attorneys. She is the recipient of the Los Angeles/Century City “Women of Achievement” award and recognized as One of the Top 50 Women in Los Angeles. Ms. Estrin has been writing The Estrin Report since 2005 and most recently launched her podcast, “Lawfully Employed”.

Reach out at: chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com or visit her website at www.EstrinLegalStaffing.com.

0 Replies to “Non-Lawyer? More Like Non-Starter: Why Using the Term Is a Jab at Equality and Dignity””

  1. I’ve been a paralegal for over 30 years and recognize that while my education and experience allow me to contribute in valuable ways, I didn’t attend law school, pass the bar exam, keep CLEs current, or purchase malpractice insurance. There are a plethora of tasks the attorneys at my firm take on every day – and I am thankful that they do. The term “non-lawyer” isn’t insulting, its simply a way to distinguish between attorneys and legal staff. Rather than decide to be offended by the term, how about we celebrate how each of our roles in the law office contribute to positive outcomes. Focusing on terminology and choosing to be offended just creates further division. Using the term non-lawyer isn’t a caste system – its simply acknowledging the different roles we all chose to pursue. I am proud of my contribution as a non-lawyer.

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