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Background: What is a community paralegal?

Community paralegals are dedicated to legal empowerment: they help people to understand, use, and shape the law. These advocates are called different names in different places – including “grassroots legal advocate,” “barefoot lawyer,” “community legal worker,” or a host of other titles. They are trained in law and policy and in skills like mediation, organizing, and advocacy.  

Although they often are called “community paralegals,” they are not the kind of paralegals who primarily serve as lawyers’ assistants. These paralegals work with clients to seek concrete solutions to instances of injustice, often at the community or administrative levels. They form a dynamic, creative frontline that can engage formal and traditional institutions alike. Moreover, Just as primary health workers are connected to doctors, community paralegals are often connected to lawyers who may help pursue litigation or high-level advocacy if frontline methods fail.

About this resource guide

The guide below is a collection of national paralegal research briefs that reviews the nature of the work undertaken by community paralegals in different countries, and how that work is recognized and funded by the government. The research briefs are accompanied by supporting national-level resources and laws related to community paralegals.

The briefs in this series focus on the types of community paralegals who have been formally recognized either in law or policy. We acknowledge that this is just a small part of a much larger picture: a broader, dynamic ecosystem of community paralegals operates effectively without state recognition in many countries. We aim to one day expand our research to offer a more comprehensive analysis of this larger universe. For now, however, our research briefs are limited to community paralegals who have been formally recognized by law or policy.

By better understanding national recognition and financing of paralegals across various contexts, practitioners can gain valuable insight to build and strengthen legal empowerment programs elsewhere. Legal empowerment expands meaningful, people-centered access to justice across the globe. This guide offers comparative analysis to support practitioners to strengthen and innovate on their existing efforts.

Contributions to the guide

Each of these briefs is a living document– if you have an update, addition or a correction, please contact us at community@namati.org. You can also submit national research on community paralegals by country or region to add to each section below. New briefs will be added on an on-going basis as they are researched, revised, and published.

The original desk research for each research brief was provided by the international law firm, White & Case LLP. Every brief has also been written with consultation and input from national experts who are directly involved with grassroots legal advocates in their country.

This resource guide offers an in depth look at recognition of community paralegals across the globe. Included within it are research briefs that outline the status of community paralegals in various countries. Additional resources and laws are also included as supplementary reading materials to provide a fuller picture of community paralegal recognition in each country.

Introduction to community paralegals

Community paralegals, also known as “barefoot lawyers,” are dedicated to legal empowerment: they help people to know, use, and shape the law. These advocates are trained in basic law and in skills like mediation, organizing, education, and advocacy. Below are some introductory resources on community paralegals.

General supporting research

These resources outline the use, recognition, and importance of community paralegals in greater detail through impact evidence and academic journal articles, though the list is by no means exhaustive.

The Americas do not have any countries that fully recognize the role of community paralegals, but some US states and Canadian provinces do recognize these advocates in their respective systems. The brief for the province of Ontario, Canada is below.

Briefs for the province of British Columbia, Canada and the US States of California, New York, and Washington are currently under development.

Canada: Ontario

The provinces of Canada have diverse recognition schemes in place for community paralegals. In Ontario, these advocates are generally referred to as "community legal workers" and work at community legal clinics throughout the province.

Africa includes many countries that have formally recognized community paralegals in various forms nationally. Research briefs for Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone are included below.

Briefs for Tanzania, South Africa, and Uganda are currently under development.


In Kenya, community paralegals are recognized in the Legal Aid Act of 2016. They are referred to formally as “paralegals.”


In Malawi, community paralegals are recognized in the Legal Aid Act of 2010 as "Legal Aid Assistants". Other grassroots legal advocates operate outside of the "legal aid assistant scheme", deployed by civil society organizations, and are known as "paralegals".


In Nigeria, Paralegals are provided some formal recognition under Nigeria’s Legal Aid Act of 2011. Paralegals operate mostly in civil matters.

Sierra Leone

In Sierra Leone, community paralegals are recognized under the Legal Aid Act of 2012 as "accredited paralegals". According to the law, these paralegals are supervised and accredited by a Legal Aid Board. This Board, however, has yet to effectively start its operations.

The Asia Pacific region includes many countries who have formally recognized community paralegals under very diverse set of systems. The briefs here represent China, Indonesia, New Zealand, and the Philippines.

Briefs for Afghanistan, India, Nepal, New Zealand and Vietnam are currently under development.


In China, community paralegals are recognized by the Regulations on Legal Aid as "legal aid personnel". These personnel work in legal aid institutions.


In Indonesia, community paralegals are recognized under the Legal Aid Act of 2011. These advocates are referred to as "paralegals", and work at Legal Aid Providers. In general, they are only able to provide non-litigation legal aid, however can provide litigation legal aid under the supervision of a lawyer in certain circumstances.


In the Philippines, community paralegals are not formally recognized by the judiciary. The Supreme Court has held that a person not admitted as an attorney cannot engage in the practice of law. However, paralegals have been active in the Philippines since the 1930s, and are entitled to appear before a number of quasi-judicial tribunals.

New Zealand

In New Zealand, community paralegals are referred to as "paralegals" or "community workers", and operate within community law centres. Community law centres are funded by the government and provide a variety of legal services, including legal education, information, advice, assistance, and representation.

Europe includes many countries that formally recognize the role of community paralegals in some form. The brief below is from Moldova.

Briefs for England and the Netherlands are currently under development.


In Moldova, paralegals are formally recognized in Law No. 198-XVI Law on State Guaranteed Legal Aid (2007), which states that primary legal aid may be granted by paralegals and non-governmental organizations specializing in the delivery of legal aid. They are referred to as, "paralegals."