Two years ago, the Minnesota State Bar Association launched two task forces to study the future of law practice and legal education. Those reports will be made public at the MSBA Annual Convention next Friday, but Lawyerist obtained copies ahead of schedule. Here are the highlights.
Limited License Legal Technicians
In its report (pdf), the MSBA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education says the MSBA should consider establishing a limited-license legal technician (LLLT) certification in Minnesota. Here’s the substance of that recommendation from the Executive Summary portion of the report:
In order to identify a less costly path to a career in legal services and address unmet needs for specific types of legal services, the MSBA should establish a separate task force focused on studying the viability of certifying Limited License Legal Technicians (“LLLT”) with authority to provide supervised legal services in defined practice areas. This task force should consist of representatives from the state court administrative office, civil legal services and pro bono programs, private practices from diverse practice settings throughout the state, potential clients, and institutions of higher education (including, but not limited to law schools). The task force should prepare a recommendation to the MSBA Assembly on the question whether to submit a petition to the Minnesota Supreme Court to establish an LLLT practitioner rule by June 2016.
This idea is based, of course, on Washington’s LLLT certification. In Washington, LLLTs can handle certain tasks in certain practices areas (currently just family law). In the ABA’s new book, The Relevant Lawyer, Paula Littlewood and Stephen Crossland lay out the LLLT certification and what it means. Here’s a quick summary.
The schooling to become certified as an LLLT is a one-year (as far as I can tell) program that costs about $15,000. Prospective LLLTs must also complete a 3,000-hour “practicum” under the supervision of an attorney before, during, or after taking courses or the exam. Once certified, LLLTs can operate solo, as part of a firm, or own a minority share of a firm together with a licensed lawyer. They have their own set of ethics rules, but in general they are held to the same standard of care as a lawyer. They just can’t do as much. So far, there are just 7:
I don’t know if it’s safe to assume more will sit for the second exam this fall, but that’s the next opportunity to become certified as a Washington LLLT.
Other states are working on similar things, but this may be the first time it has been mentioned in Minnesota, and on an aggressive timeline. A year from now, Minnesota may join Washington in certifying non-lawyers to practice law.
Challenges to the Practice of Law
Another Minnesota task force, the MSBA Challenges to the Practice of Law Task Force, made its own report (pdf). The recommendations include:
- Guidance for lawyers (in the form of an ethics opinion) on ethics and the cloud.
- A mentoring program to focus on professionalism with CLE credit for participating.
- Increased UPL enforcement.
- Incentives for lawyers who move to rural areas to practice.
- Encouragement of alternative fees and business models.
- Of course, the establishment of another committee, this on a standing committee on technology to help guide lawyers into the present (and, optimistically, the future).
There’s more, but the report is probably interesting mostly to Minnesota lawyers who are optimistic about the MSBA’s ability to adapt. It feels like a step in the right direction, but as MSBA President Richard Kyle observed, the bar association is in a “race for relevance.” It also might be too little, too late. Time (but not much of it) will tell.
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