Fight Over Access to Justice in Washington Turns Ugly

Many state bar associations are wrangling with how to close the access-to-justice gap. In 2001, Washington’s state supreme court set up a Practice of Law Board to study the issue, as well as deal with the unlicensed practice of law. The Board proposed allowing Limited License Legal Technicians to perform limited legal services, which became law back in 2012.  But due to a long-running feud between it and the Washington State Bar Association, which included controversy over LLLT’s, four of the Board members resigned yesterday.

The resigning members of the Board laid out their concerns in a letter to the Washington Supreme Court (pdf), which accuses the Washington State Bar Association of systematically undermining their mission to help provide legal access:

The Board’s mission is laudable and we could have accomplished much to help increase the availability of legal services to the public if we had been allowed to do our job. Instead of advancing our mission during the past two years, we have spent more time and energy responding to and fending off the Washington State Bar Association’s efforts to undermine and eliminate our Board.

The letter details the twists and turns in its ongoing fight with the state bar over eleven pages, and ends with this:

The treatment of the Practice of Law Board over the last three years is a textbook study on how to discourage and disempower a board comprised of volunteers: oppose their mission; cut their budget; withhold meaningful staff support; personally attack and seek to oust the volunteers who disagree with you; conduct secret meetings to discuss the future of the group without informing its volunteer members or inviting them to participate; dismiss or reject out of hand the volunteers’ concerns; and replace the group’s members and leadership team. There is no surer way to demoralize a group of volunteers and undermine their good intentions.

In a statement to the ABA, the Washington State Bar Association said the letter was full of “significant misinterpretations and misunderstandings.” It seems that everyone agrees that we need to fill the access-to-justice gap, but no one can agree on how.

Featured image: “Stock image of person wearing business suit and boxing gloves isolated on white” from Shutterstock.

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