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