An article in the February 2013 issue of the California Bar Journal states that the Calbar Board of Trustees is examining the possibility of creating a class of "limited-practice licensed" individuals. Among the reasons provided as the catalyst (e.g. lower cost to consumers, path to eventual Bar passage), ostensibly, the Board also believes this would circumvent instances of unauthorized practice of law (UPL). UPL (Rule 1-300) falls outside of the Bar's jurisdiction and is normally addressed as a misdemeanor charge via a criminal complaint.
A form of certification already exists within the Bar (or at least, it used to), called "Certified Law Clerk". I know it well because I was one when I worked at the L.A. County D.A.'s Office during law school. From memory, some of the criteria to be certified included being a 3L and having already passed the Evidence course, among other things. Certification allowed me to perform more duties than a standard law clerk. Obviously, I see some benefit to the idea.
However, I also see detriment, and the first one that comes to mind is expectations. What level of expertise will a client of this class of legal professional believe they are – or should be – receiving? Who will guard the line between limited-practice and unlimited practice to ensure that the provider doesn't cross it? Who is at fault if the provider doesn't meet the standards the client believes they should meet?
Is a new tort called "Limited-Malpractice" going to spring out of this plan? Will it ultimately 'dilute the brand' of what being a lawyer means?
Considering that I'm Chair of the Law Practice Management and Technology Section Executive Committee, if this new class is ultimately created, my Excom will likely be front and center during the implementation process.
Either way, I'll say this; the Board has their work cut out for them!