The Navy has taken a huge step forward by requiring its legalmen to obtain at least an associate degree, reports the Navy Times in its story "Navy: Legalmen must earn associate degree."
"Navy lawyers now do much work done by paralegals in civilian life, Houck said. By putting all legalmen through paralegal education, he said the enlisted members of the JAG Corps will be able to do 'powerful things, freeing up lawyers to focus on what is unique to being a lawyer and the practice of law.'"
This is exactly the type of thinking that encourages efficiency and affordability of services in civilian law practices. The Navy is doing two things here. First, it is recognizing the value of education for its legalmen and encouraging higher standards from its legal staff. Second, it is adding value to the law degree possessed by JAG lawyers, by freeing them up "to focus on what is unique to being a lawyer."
In effect, they Navy is recognizing the difference between attorney duties and paralegal duties, and that it makes sense to delegate paralegal duties to non-attorney team members.
The Navy did not start this trend, nor has it come in last. Civilian law firms still vary widely in educational/training requirements and the ways in which they use paralegals. Many law firms are still stuck in a routine similar to the current Navy, in which lawyers are doing the work paralegals could be doing. Of course, the decision of when and how to use paralegals is ultimately a decision that lawyers must make when deciding how to maximize benefit to the client. Still, I predict wider and more efficient use of highly educated paralegals as time presses on.