Future or Folly: Limited License Legal Technicians

Graduation Limited License Legal TechniciansIt’s graduation time. This year, there is a brand new class of graduates in the State of Washington: Limited License Legal Technicians (LLLTs). These graduates are from a unique legal educational program—not a traditional law school. Yet they will eventually have a law license to perform limited legal services in family law.

Requirements of LLLT Program

Washington’s LLLT program was established when the state’s Supreme Court amended Washington’s Admission and Practice Rules in 2012. The program allows a new category of professional, the LLLT, to provide legal services and advice in approved areas of law. The LLLT “does not represent the client in court proceedings or negotiations, but provides limited legal assistance as set forth” in the rule, including assisting the client in gathering documents and explaining deadlines and documents that must be filed. The first approved area of law that LLLTs will be allowed to practice in is family law. The governing board anticipates later expansion into other substantive areas of the law.

To become an LLLT, an applicant must be eighteen years old and must meet education, examination, and experience requirements. The year-long education program costs around $10,000 and includes coursework in civil procedure, legal research, contracts, professional responsibility and advanced family law. After the education requirement has been met, an LLLT must gain substantive law experience under the supervision of a lawyer. In order to practice, an LLLT must obtain malpractice insurance and fulfill professional obligations similar to that of an attorney, such as attending continuing legal education courses, abiding by a code of ethical conduct, and being subject to disciplinary measures for any violation of this code.

On March 23 of this year, the Washington Supreme Court entered another transformative order: allowing LLLTs to share fees with lawyers and become minor partners in law firms. The LLLTs are specifically prohibited under new Washington Rule of Professional Conduct 5.9 from supervising attorneys or in any way controlling an attorney’s independent professional judgment. This change is modeled off legal reforms that already allow fee-sharing between lawyers and non-lawyers in the United Kingdom and in Australia.

The District of Columbia is the only other U.S. jurisdiction that allows non-lawyer ownership in law firms.

Rationale for Program

In enacting the radical program, the court relied on the state’s 2003 Civil Legal Needs Study documenting that low and moderate income residents (families with incomes between 200 and 400% of the Federal poverty Level) found civil legal services unaffordable. So the primary purpose of the state’s LLLT program is to provide service to middle-to-low income individuals and families who would previously be unable to access legal services due to financial barriers.

In explaining its actions, the court also laid out the many unsuccessful steps taken to alleviate the access to justice gap. Noting that the unaffordability of civil legal services caused many folks to turn to unregulated services (such as Legal Zoom and Rocket Lawyer) the Court adopted this course to make sure public citizens had access to legal services from trained professionals.

Pros and Cons of the Program

The Washington Supreme Court took this action despite sharp opposition from members of the bar (and a dissenting Justice). The main criticism is that lawyers remain underemployed and the LLLTs may take income-generating work away from lawyers. Without the same degree of training and education as lawyers earning a juris doctor degree after three years in an ABA-accredited law school, some argue, LLLTs will not be able to fully serve their clients or protect their best interests.

Proponents liken this development in the legal profession to the advent of the nurse practitioner in the medical profession. Some clients may not want or need the “full services” offered by an attorney. In a chapter of the just-released book, The Relevant Lawyer, Reimagining the Future of the Legal Profession, Paula Littlewood and Stephen Crossland of the Washington Bar Association explain the rationale behind Washington’s LLLT program, asserting, “Perhaps it is time for lawyers to face the fact that the public needs more legal services, in both type and volume, than the legal profession is currently delivering.”

Harbinger of the Future or One State Folly

Are these moves in Washington going to set the stage for similar changes across the nation? Other states are considering the idea.

In 2013, California began the process of exploring solutions to the justice gap. The public comment period just closed on the Civil Justice Strategies Task Force Report and Recommendations. The Recommendations include designing a pilot LLLT program in one subject area and with the input of the state supreme court, address governance, oversight and licensing.

Similarly, the Oregon Bar Association assembled a task force that issued its report earlier this year. One recommendation is that the “legal technician” concept be explored as a means to address the justice gap. The justice gap in Oregon, according to the report, has become worse over the last decade. In 1992, 38% of all family law litigants in Oregon were self-represented; the current report pegs that number at 86%. This despite undisputed reports that new attorneys are having a difficult time in obtaining employment. The report concludes that the percentage of self-represented family law litigants has not decreased over the years because new lawyers have not found a method to represent this population.

Other states may be considering a paraprofessional program similar to Washington’s LLLT program. Paula Littlewood and Stephen Crossland have been invited to discuss the program by many bar associations or task forces, including in New Mexico, Colorado, and Illinois.

Whether Limited License Legal Technicians become a trend remains to be seen. At least the program represents an innovative attempt to solve a persistent and growing problem that the legal profession has an obligation to address.

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Jayne Reardon
As a prior trial lawyer, Jayne leads lawyers to embrace the transformative possibilities of future law practice. As a prior disciplinary counsel, Jayne is passionate about promoting the core values of the legal profession. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and the University of Notre Dame. Jayne lives in Park Ridge, Illinois with her husband and those of her four children who are not otherwise living in college towns and beyond.
Jayne Reardon

8 thoughts on “Future or Folly: Limited License Legal Technicians

  1. The controversary. LLLTs are not licensed attorneys to practice law besides somewhat trained to follow certain protocol but depending on elements other procedures concern as a matter of law prinicples.

    What I am trying to say clients rights may be subject to exposure because a LLLTS may not know the variable remedy of law for every situation. To my knowledge an LLLT does not pay errors and omissions and a clients right to protection is afforded by an attorney by his or herIinsurance carrier.

    Further to my knowledge an LLLT or paralegal must have an oversight attorney. Just think I have been a full time paralegal and contract paralegal for 30 years with a full service law firm at my disposal. Filling in forms is one thing but knowing the law in variable situations leave room for serious repurcussions.

  2. Many bar association’s across the country offer reduced-fee and moderate-fee lawyer referral service programs for those individuals who do not qualify for free legal service and cannot afford standard attorney fees.

    Given the significant number of lawyers who are out of work, I would think the organized bar would look into developing more of these types of programs before considering the possibility of LLLT’s.

  3. Janese, LLLTs in Washington are tested on their knowledge of the law. The LLLT Exam is administered by the Washington State Bar and they certify that the passing paralegal has the minimum knowledge to pass that test. In addition, Regulation 12 requires LLLTs to carry acts or omissions professional liability insurance. Knowing the law is not magic and law school attendance is not a must. In the not too distant past, if someone studied the books to learn the law and passed the bar exam, he could be licensed lawyer. Besides it’s common knowledge that law schools don’t do a good of teaching the practice of law as documented by many law review articles, studies and surveys. Take this comment from ABA’s webpage: “…yet law schools and professors FAIL to teach law students hardly anything about the actual practice of law. Law schools tightly hold onto the archaic Socratic method/case method for the sake of tradition, but it does nothing to prepare one for the practice of law. So law students pay sooooo much for so little in return.” (Source: comments section of http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/washington_state_moves_around_upl_using_legal_technicians_to_help_close_the)

  4. Totally agree with you Alexander. I know many license attorney’s who actually do not know how to practice even though they completed law school several years ago.
    I have an Associate degree in Paralegal Studies, and bachelor’s degree in legal studies and believe even though not a license attorney. I know the law and have more knowledge than those attorney’s mentioned above. In fact help them prepare briefs, motion and research on many of their cases.
    I believe the program it’s good it could have an unprecedent impact on delivering legal services to those who lack access, and the resources to get effective legal services.
    Look at the medical field there’s still plenty of work for everyone on.
    Lawyers who claim it will take work away from them, should consider taking a good look at your profession to find out what yiu’really ding wrong.
    Maybe your tag price is to high?
    Bottom line time has changed and has to change the way kegal services are provided.

  5. Give every 3rd year law student the right to practice law. Their clients must sign an acknowledgement that they know the student is not a licensed lawyer. Good resume builder!

    1. It is a good idea doing so, however, something must be done, and quick, there’s a vast number of people not being represented, by neither, lawyers, law students and anybody else. LLLT, it is a possible solution that it has to be embraced by lawyers and order to make it a successful program, just like it happened in the medical field when Nurse practitioner came into existence. Today they work in many different areas in the practice of medicine delivering high-quality services.

  6. In response, coming from the angle of an average citizen with no legal background (I do have friends that are attorneys). I am frankly horrified by how the current system works. An Attorney passes the bar and is allowed to open a firm (zero experience) and practice law. They do not know the county procedure or how to fill out forms, furthermore they are not necessarily skilled in anyone part of the law. Shouldn’t mandatory internships be in order or practical experience before I am asked to pay premium prices?
    A judge said to me that 2/3 of people that go before court are without any representation in family law cases. I am sorry, some help is better than none. I can afford an attorney but most people can’t. What is the harm in getting most of the process completed with a LLLT and the representation and complex parts handled by an attorney? This means clients that could not afford an attorney now can. A modified business model to the current. The folly is to do nothing in a deteriorating system. I sympathize with someone not being able to make a living, however there are children involved and simple fact that a failing attorney might be just a bad businessman should not supersede the need of the community. I think the future is the need for said attorneys to work with LLLTs and create a new kind of client. Win/Win… do they have any other choice?

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