Washington: Quasi-Lawyers Can Provide Greater Access to Legal Services

something-that-will-pay

The Limited License Legal Technician is the Washington State Bar Association’s answer to the current legal market. The LLLT program attempts to change the legal field by offering more specialized training and hopefully, in turn, more affordable legal services. According to Paula Littlewood, the executive director of the WSBA, the “consuming lawyer cannot afford lawyers….” The goal of the LLLT program is to give more people access to legal professionals. Littlewood also claims that “you have these folks out there doing unauthorized practice, which is harming the public. The hope is to bring them under the tent.”

The program would create a class of professionals similar to a nurse practitioner. They would have specific training and ethical requirements overseen by the LLLT Board. They could advise clients on specific legal matters, but not appear in court. Admission to Practice Rule 28 provides that LLLTs would be permitted to “advise clients on specific areas of law, which have yet to be determined [by the LLLT Board].” The Washington Supreme Court has to specifically approve any area of law the LLLTs can advise on.

The program is a bold step from Washington’s legal profession. I completely disagree with the idea of taking people who are already engaged in the unauthorized practice of law and bringing them “under the tent.” The program’s merits come from the specialized training the LLLT would approve and oversee.

The program attempts to serve a population that cannot afford, and probably does not need, a fully trained lawyer. Do we really need $100,000 of education to help a couple handle an uncontested divorce? Or would it be better for someone with specialized training to just handle these specific cases for a more affordable price?

Unfortunately, in the current legal marketplace there simply is not an alternative. With crippling debt, lawyers are forced to feed themselves. Inevitably, this involves taking cases like those an LLLT could easily handle. As Scott Greenfield explains, one does not need seven years of education to review simple wills or shepherd clients through an uncontested divorce. Instead, they can get a highly specialized degree to handle those things. And they could get it “[a]t night. Over the internet. In their bathrobe.”

The problem presented by the LLLT program or any similar permutation is that it presents a long-term solution. It will take time for the market to adjust to an influx of quasi-lawyers. But in the meantime, law schools will continue to churn out lawyers with unbearable debt loads. Some of us with life-long aspirations to practice law and others looking for a career because they didn’t know what to do after college. The legal profession’s problems will not be fixed quickly, and they won’t be changed without lawyers taking a hard look at what they offer their clients.

,

  • http://lawyersareboring.tumblr.com/ Serena Manzoli

    I’m not sure this would bring to “more affordable legal services”. The problem with the legal market is that it’s overpopulated and- however- lawyer’s fees don’t get lower. And why they don’t get lower? I think because 1. lawyers working time is not optimized 2. they have little work, have hard time to make a living, so they charge a lot for every client. Adding LLLT people will just make things harder for everyone: I mean, how cheaper their services could be, provided that points 1. and 2. are likely to be same for them?

  • Rebecca Lee Wilson

    I’m not clear on the difference between an LLLT and a paralegal or legal assistant, or don’t they have paralegals in Washington state?

    • Mike

      While many paralegals have certifications, it is not required. The titles’ legal assistant and paralegal are used interchangeably. The only certification that I’m aware of is offered by the University of Washington. The prerequisite is a bachelor’s degree, and the certification requires, if I recall correctly, a years time to complete. LLLT’s have not had a noticeable impact that I’m aware of; granted, it’s only been a few months. What has hurt is the legalization of pot…

  • FF

    This is a terrible idea. After LegalZoom and unlicensed pratice of law of “consultants”, paralegal and title companies, there will simply have no room for lawyers.

    Not everyone can be a litigator or get paid work.

    Now, how are those quasi-lawyers gonna find the winkle in te matter that requires an attorney? After all there would have a conflict sicne they would lose money by sening the file “up”.

    Also quasi-lawyers, is that a term of J.D. only, or for certified paralegals?

    Because it that case every paralegal will just open up shop….

  • George Zuganelis

    This won’t affect my practice, since I’m a criminal defense lawyer in Chicago, Illinois. I don’t see Illinois doing this. At least not for several years. There is a problem I see, however. Since many lawyers work in areas of law that don’t involve litigation, I can see those lawyers now trying to become litigators and flood the market. The advantage I see is that an established lawyer can have relationships with these quasi-lawyers and get referrals from them. Much like the solicitors and barristers of England.

  • http://failedevidence.wordpress.com David Harris

    Josh: I think that this kind of legal technician licensing could be part of the solution, but not to the problem of law grads with heavy debt and no jobs. We have to keep in mind what problem we are trying to solve. Something like LLLT can address the fact that for most middle and lower income people, legal services are not attainable at all, except through legal aid and pro bono organizations. Legal aid organizations are not well funded enough to meet all the needs out there. And there are many regular folks out there who would not qualify for legal aid services anyway and also can’t afford lawyers. So the great mass of people have nowhere to go with their legal needs. A person who could get an uncontested divorce or a simple will done for a low price would at least have another option with these services. What something like LLLT will not do is address the problem of lawyers already in the market without jobs who have debt loads too great to take on what will be low paying work.

  • Craig

    Lawyers fees rise in proportion to law school debt. Stop funneling tuition into otherwise failing undergrad programs, decrease the cost of law school, and you’ll soon see that lawyers can compete in a manner that will drive down prices, and allow more access to legal services. The answer is pretty simple, but no one wants to actually help make legal services more affordable. They just want to fund their otherwise failing programs.

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/andymergendahl/ Andy Mergendahl