Podcast #146: Practicing Law as a Legal Technician (LLLT) in Washington State, with Laura Genoves

In this episode, we talk with Laura Genoves and her experiences as one of the first Limited Licensed Legal Technicians in Washington State. We also discuss the differences between a legal technician and a practicing attorney, including everything from education costs to how each can practice.

Laura Genoves

Laura is one of Washington State’s newest form of Legal Professionals, a Limited License Legal Technician and has a solo family law practice in Seattle. Laura is excited to be on the cutting edge of providing affordable legal services to those who otherwise might not seek out legal assistance.

You can follow Laura on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Thanks to Ruby Receptionists and Clio for sponsoring this episode!

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Speaker 1: Welcome to the Lawyerist podcast, with Sam Glover and Aaron Street. Each week, Lawyerist brings you advice and interviews to help you build a more successful law practice in today’s challenging and constantly changing legal market. And now, here are Sam and Aaron.

Sam Glover: Hi. I’m Sam Glover.

Aaron Street: And I’m Aaron Street, and this is episode 146 of the Lawyerist podcast, part of the legal talk network. Today, we’re talking with Laura Genoves about her experience as one of the first limited legal … Shit. Limited licensed legal technicians, LLLTs, in Washington State.

Sam Glover: You can just say triple LTs.

Aaron Street: Yeah, or just legal technicians.

Sam Glover: You’ll find out that that’s just fine.

Aaron Street: Triple LTs, LLLTs.

Sam Glover: I think we’ll clear it all up soon.

Aaron Street: Branding.

Sam Glover: Today’s podcast is sponsored by Clio Legal Practice Management software. Clio makes running your law firm easier. Try it for free today at clio.com.

Aaron Street: Today’s podcast is also sponsored by Ruby Receptionists, and it’s smart, charming receptionists who are perfect for small firms. Visit callruby.com/lawyerist to get a risk free trial with Ruby.

So Sam, I think it was two years ago on this podcast, which is a crazy thing to be able to say, that we’ve been doing this long enough that I can say something happened two years ago, but I feel like it was about two years ago on this podcast that we were talking about LLLTs, or whatever.

Sam Glover: Pick one and go with it.

Aaron Street: I put forward my thesis about them, which is that a whole bunch of lawyers around the country are all up in arms about this new limited license thing and how it’s going to be the death of the profession. I think to a large part, almost everyone who hates the concept hates it because of some stupid version of protectionism, where they think it’s going to ruin what it means to be a lawyer or where they just don’t want anyone threatening lawyers or something that I think is pretty dumb, because it’s not focused at all on what’s best for clients.

My thesis is that … At least has been up until today’s conversation … has been that it doesn’t really make sense because the structure of the economics of LLLT, triple-

Sam Glover: Legal technicians.

Aaron Street: Of legal technicians is that they’re going to have to run solo small practices just like a solo small lawyer and that they’re going to have education costs not quite as high as law school.

Sam Glover: Actually, there is only one difference in cost. You brought that up before, and you’re totally right. She has to pay malpractice insurance. She needs an office, all those things. The only difference is the education cost, which is considerable. That’s it.

Aaron Street: Sure. Student loans cost a lot of money, but student loan costs are not the driving function of a lawyer’s billable hour, and therefore the idea that structurally this can offer a different price point for consumers to access legal services just doesn’t really make sense to me. But all of that said, I’m really excited to hear from Laura so that we can prove or disprove my theory.

Sam Glover: I am, too. She and I absolutely talked about that angle on it. The one thing we didn’t talk about, which is I think maybe worth raising now, is she pointed out to me before we started recording that she can’t charge as much as a lawyer. Even if all of her business structure, overhead expenses, even if the economic model is the same, she said, “You know what? We’re not lawyers. We have a hard time convincing somebody to pay anywhere near the same price that they would a lawyer, but that doesn’t mean that there’s a sustainable business there.” I think we’ll hear more from her about what she thinks that means and why she’s optimistic. Here we are.

Laura Genoves: My name is Laura Genoves, and I’m a newly licensed legal technician in Seattle, Washington.

Sam Glover: Hi, Laura. Thanks so much for being on the podcast today.

Laura Genoves: Thank you.

Sam Glover: By legal technician, you mean the awkwardly named you’re an LLLT.

Laura Genoves: Yes. The official name is limited licensed legal technician, and a lot of people have referred to them as triple LTs, but most of those in practice are calling themselves legal technicians or even law tech is another one I’ve heard.

Sam Glover: I’m so thrilled to hear that, actually, because it has been so awkward to try and use that abbreviation in speech. So legal technician it is from here on out. No more triple LTs.

Laura Genoves: Okay. Legal technician works for me.

Sam Glover: You were licensed about a year ago. Is that right?

Laura Genoves: No. Actually, I was licensed in May of this year.

Sam Glover: Oh, wow.

Laura Genoves: I got my order from the Supreme Court of Washington. I just launched my practice in September, and I’ve got my office and I’m seeing clients and working as a solo.

Sam Glover: Very cool. Let’s back up to the beginning of that and talk about what a legal technician is and what does that training look like. How do you get your license and that sort of thing?

Laura Genoves: Okay. Well, a legal technician is someone who is licensed. Currently, my understanding is many states are looking at this, but I believe Washington is … We’re the pioneers in this.

Sam Glover: Absolutely.

Laura Genoves: It’s someone who’s licensed by the state. We’re overseen by the bar association, and we have to have a minimum associate level degree. However, I have a bachelors. There’s a core education, which are 45 credit hours at an ABA-approved program. There’s a listing of courses that are necessary. We also get a practice area education, and currently our practice area is in family law. These classes are done at the University of Washington Law School, and they’re done online so that everybody across the state can participate. They’re real time online classes that you have to show up. For me, they were Tuesdays and Thursdays evenings. Also, you need to take an exam. There is a core education exam, which is the paralegal core competency exam and a professional responsibility exam. Our RPCs parallel the attorney RPCs pretty closely.

Sam Glover: You do have your own.

Laura Genoves: We do have our own, yes. And then we also have a practice area exam, which is like a mini bar exam administered through the Washington State Bar. The third piece of it is the experience. We need to have 3,000 hours of substantive law-related experience, which is about a year and a half full-time.

Sam Glover: Yeah. That’s a long time.

Laura Genoves: It is, and you have to be supervised by a licensed attorney, and they have to sign off. They have to sign a declaration saying that you did do 3,000 hours of substantive law-related work.

Sam Glover: So like if you were interning with an asshole, you’d want to get out of there, because they might just not let you go in the end.

Laura Genoves: You know what? Actually, there have been people whose attorneys have not signed off on their hours, which is a little bit tricky. So I think that’s something that triple LT board … Oh, here. I’m saying that again. The legal technician board is looking into in terms of making it mandatory to have the attorneys sign off on hours that are actually worked.

Sam Glover: Yeah. I could see that being a problem where you basically have a private lawyer just vetoing the legal technician’s schooling.

Laura Genoves: Right, right.

Sam Glover: That’s a problem.

Laura Genoves: I think the idea is … I think what the legal technicians who are in training have learned is to be up front with that right at the beginning and say, “Hey. I’m in this program. I plan to complete it. Here’s what the declaration looks like. Are you willing to sign off on this?”

Sam Glover: Yeah. Okay. So you take your mini bar exam. You do your supervision time under a lawyer. It’s only after that that you get your license.

Laura Genoves: Right. You have to actually … In addition to that, there’s a background check that has to be done. I got fingerprinted and …

Sam Glover: Okay, wow.

Laura Genoves: Yeah. There’s also a character and fitness piece. You have to submit that to the bar actually before you even sit the exam to make sure that if you were to pass, that you are someone who is able to practice law.

Sam Glover: Around the country, everybody’s biggest concern is whether or not they need to report that they used to smoke weed on their character and fitness exam. I assume in Washington, that’s no longer an issue.

Laura Genoves: You know, I really couldn’t speak to that, but …

Sam Glover: All right.

Laura Genoves: … seeing as it’s legal in our state, I don’t know how they would come down on that.

Sam Glover: Now that you’re licensed, what can you do?

Laura Genoves: What I am allowed to do is I can assist clients in terms of moving their family law matters forward. Specifically, I can do child support orders. I can do child support modifications. I can do dissolutions, legal separation. I can do some domestic violence action.

Sam Glover: If somebody came to you and wanted your help drafting a dissolution for the two spouses, you could assist them with that. Can you negotiate it?

Laura Genoves: I can assist one of them. Obviously, I can’t take on both people as my clients. That would be something that wouldn’t … Any attorney couldn’t take on people who potentially have opposing interests, but I’m not an attorney, obviously. I’m a legal technician, but it falls under the same RPCs that I really can’t do that.

Sam Glover: But you could assist one side, and you just talk to them, or can you negotiate with the other party or the other lawyer as well? Or the other legal technician on the other side?

Laura Genoves: I am prohibited from negotiating on my client’s behalf. That also falls under the attorney purview. What I can do is I communicate through that my client. So my client could say, “Well, my former spouse or my soon to be ex-spouse says this or his attorney says that.” It’s a little bit of a pass through.

Sam Glover: Coaching?

Laura Genoves: A little bit of coaching, and I state that clearly in my engagement agreement that that is my client’s responsibility to communicate with me whenever they get information or whenever they get communication from the opposing party, because technically my clients, as far as filing documents, their pro se. I have to sign every court document with my license number and my signature, but the client is really pro se.

Sam Glover: Interesting. You are able to have ownership in a law firm or have your own firm, which is not technically a law firm, and legal technician’s firm.

Laura Genoves: Right. Under our practice rules, it’s APR-28, if anybody really wants to take the time to look that up. I can’t remember specifically which section that is, so don’t quote me on that. We can either share a firm with an attorney, and those two people would come to some sort of agreement, or legal technicians could own a firm together, two or more. I know of two who have started their own firm together, and they are working to help clients. Or like myself, you could hang out your own shingle and work as an independent legal technician.

Sam Glover: So then what does your firm look like? I assume it’s an LLC or PLLC or something like that.

Laura Genoves: It is. It’s a PLLC, and I have to set up an [inaudible 00: 11: 22] account, just like an attorney would. I use practice management software. I don’t know if I can say which one I use.

Sam Glover: Yeah. Which one do you use?

Laura Genoves: I like Clio. That’s the one I’m most familiar with, and that’s what works for me. I have my clients sign an engagement agreement with me that clearly outlines the work of what I plan to help them with. Part of my job, too, is screening clients, because I really have to make sure that when someone works with me, that they understand what I can do for them. If something moves beyond my scope of practice, it’s up to me to explain to them why I can’t continue to help them and recommend that they see a full service attorney.

Sam Glover: The way it’s … You’re doing limited scope representation in the same way that lots of lawyers do it. It’s just that you’re not necessarily the one limiting the scope. It’s regulated to be limited by the state.

Laura Genoves: Right. It is regulated. The thing is, though, that it is always changing. There are things that are pending to see if we can expand our scope slightly in terms of being able, for example, to go to court with a client. Not to speak on their behalf, but to be there to help with procedural issues. One example I can think of is someone who had not gone to a hearing with their client, and the client was asked if they wanted to continue it. Of course, being there pro se, she said, “Oh, yeah. I want to continue.” Then she didn’t understand what happened when it was moved two weeks later, because it’s that terminology that someone who’s not in law would not understand.

Sam Glover: Oh. She meant I want to go ahead and do it.

Laura Genoves: Yes. I want to keep going is what she thought, but it meant continue it as to a later date. One of the areas that might be changing in our scope is being able to go to a hearing with a client just to be able to explain procedural things or to-

Sam Glover: An advocate in the courtroom.

Laura Genoves: Right. Say a commissioner might come up with a ruling on what’s going on in that hearing. To be there to help write that up so that the client understands how what has been said gets translated into documents for the court that are enforceable and that type of thing.

Sam Glover: How do you describe what you do in your marketing? What is the concise way that you would explain to a prospective client what you do and maybe how you distinguish that from what a lawyer can do for them? Or does that just always have to be a long conversation?

Laura Genoves: I was just going to say, “Concise? Hmm.” I am working on a way to make-

Sam Glover: What’s the billboard version?

Laura Genoves: Well, I think the billboard version is give me a call, and we can talk about it, because I think I really need to assess the client’s needs and what I can help them with before I decide to sign an engagement agreement with them. I also can explain to someone that, “Hey, I can help you up to this point, and if you’d like, you can see … I have attorneys that I work with. They can guide you in this other part that I’m not allowed to help you with.” For example, division of real estate or QDROs. I can’t help a client with that, but I can refer them to an attorney to do that.

Sam Glover: You just refer them to an attorney, or do you get the attorney to help with that piece of it and keep the client? I guess I’m wondering do your clients have a tendency to have to go to an attorney in the middle of the representation for something else, or just to leave you and then go to an attorney?

Laura Genoves: Well, most of my clients are working people. Most of my clients are people of middle means, and yes, there are some in Seattle still, believe it or not. I work evenings and weekends even to accommodate some of these working people. Money is clearly a concern to them, so I think that they want limited expense with an attorney. I think if an attorney gives me written instructions, I can do some of the work myself as long as I have written instructions from an attorney.

Sam Glover: Let’s take a quick break to hear from some of our sponsors. When we come back, we can dive into money a little bit more, because I’m really curious to hear your thoughts on that piece of how this all works out on a practical level. So we’ll be right back.

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Okay. We’re back. Laura, one of the things that I’ve been trying to figure out is how a legal technician can afford to be cheaper than a lawyer, because we hear that a lot, that legal technicians will help close the access to justice gap. They’ll help increase the access to justice by lowering the cost of getting legal help. All of that stuff, I get it and it makes sense. Cost is certainly a factor in why it’s hard to get justice for some people. But most of lawyers’ expenses aren’t tied to the fact that they’re lawyers, right? You still have to have an office and so does a lawyer. You have to have malpractice insurance. So does a lawyer, although maybe yours is less expensive. I don’t know. You need practice management software. Most of the overhead that a lawyer has to bear, you also have to bear, and yet many lawyers are not making a killing doing what they’re doing. I’m wondering, how can you charge less? How does that work? That’s a good question.

Laura Genoves: Well, I’m trying to figure out myself how it’s going to work exactly. I think the primary thing is I am not under a huge amount of student loan debt, number one. In order to get all of the education component of becoming a legal technician, I would say that … Including fees for taking exams … it probably is about ballpark $12,000. When you’re talking about that versus eight, 10 times that amount-

Sam Glover: It’s a factor of 10. Yeah.

Laura Genoves: Right.

Sam Glover: At least.

Laura Genoves: Number one, I don’t have that component to deal with. I do, like you said, I have malpractice insurance. I have to maintain my license with the bar. I have overhead for rent and blah, blah, blah, but I’m hoping that it’s really through volume. I talk to a lot of clients. I plant a lot of seeds, and I’m hoping that that’s going to help me. In the future, I’d like to move to a flat fee model once I get a sense of how long it’s going to take me to do different components of what I can do. Child support, parenting plan, that type of thing. Kind of move to a flat fee model, but I’m not there yet.

Sam Glover: I guess in theory, limited scope might mean more predictable, in which case, you can potentially automate it. You can use document assembly. You can quote flat fees. Yeah. Maybe it’s easier for you to find efficiencies in the way you work than somebody who’s doing beginning to end style of representation.

Laura Genoves: Exactly. We have a great resource, and I think many bar associations do. It’s law office practice management. It’s LOMAP, is what we call it here at the Washington State Bar. They’ve been invaluable in really helping find some great tools and resources for automation. That’s really been something that has been my goal.

While I’m not as busy as I would like, the time that I’m not, I’m really doing a lot of that work to make sure that when it does happen … Because I’m sure that it will. I’m confident … that I’m ready to roll and hit the ground running.

Sam Glover: I realize you’ve been doing this for just some months now. How’s it going? How’s business?

Laura Genoves: Actually, business is going well. I was actually kind of surprised. When I tell people about what I do, it is hard to do an elevator speech. I think of it as very tall building, because it’s a little bit of a mouthful, but people are very excited. I work in a private office in a co-working space, so there’s a lot of networking that happens within the co-working. People are very excited. I’m going to do a presentation with the group here. They have a lunch and learn thing that happens once a month, and I think a lot of-

Sam Glover: Are you in WeWork or Industrious?

Laura Genoves: It’s one in Seattle called the Riveter.

Sam Glover: Oh, cool.

Laura Genoves: Yeah. It’s an independent type of office share environment.

Sam Glover: Because legal technicians were brought about in part because of the movement to try and work on access to justice, do you feel like you have a sense for is that working?

Laura Genoves: One factor that’s been difficult is the bar association hasn’t done a lot of promotion of legal technicians, because currently, there are only 25 of us that are licensed to practice across the state of Washington. We live in a fairly large state divided by mountains. My sense is that if people really get the idea that there is a less expensive alternative to just basic straightforward family law problems, that there won’t be someone to serve them in their county.

Sam Glover: I suppose the bar’s interests in marketing legal technicians is maybe a little bit conflicted, which makes me wonder. What sort of reception have you gotten from the bar? From lawyers, from the association in general? What does that look like?

Laura Genoves: Well, I would say for the most part, the Washington State Bar has been really supportive. We’re full members of the bar. We pay a licensing fee every year. Some of the county bars have not been as receptive, which is a little disappointing, unfortunately. I’m working. I’m trying to do a charm campaign to get the King County Bar to allow me to join them. I paid my dues, and then I got it sent back to me, which is a little sad.

I think there have been lots of attorneys who have reached out to me to find out more about what we do and the opportunity to work together. I think those are the attorneys that I like to work with. They will get referrals from me, and they send me referrals. In some ways, if people really were to take a look at the program in general and the niche that we do fill, frankly, it’s better for them to work with someone who has a guide versus working with a pro se party. That’s a tough ethical line, sometimes, how much communication you can have with a pro se party, an opposing pro se party. I think attorneys who know how the program really works, I think would be surprised that we fill an important gap.

Sam Glover: I almost feel like you’re a doula for divorce case, like for divorcing spouses. There are no OB/GYNs who went out of business because of the doula movement. Lots of people want doulas, so you’re like a divorce doula.

Laura Genoves: Well, kind of. I don’t know what we’re giving birth to, but sure.

Sam Glover: Before we publish this podcast, make sure divorcedoula.com is available.

Laura Genoves: Well, in some ways, too, it’s like a nurse practitioner role, as well, because if you have a sore throat, you don’t need a surgeon. You can go in and see the nurse practitioner. They can give you what you need, and then move you on your way. But if it’s more complicated and they think that there’s more of an issue, then yeah. You get referred on to a surgeon or someone who can take care of that issue for you.

Sam Glover: You can call yourself a divorce coach if you’re uncomfortable with doula.

Laura Genoves: Yeah, although divorce coach, I think that’s a different role. We have those here, too, and I think that’s a little bit different. But yeah. I see what you’re saying. I like divorce doula.

Sam Glover: What’s the future for the legal technician program? Is there talk of expanding it in new practice areas or letting you do more besides what we’ve already talked about? What’s in the future?

Laura Genoves: Yeah. There actually is a committee of the bar association that is looking at expanding our practice areas. They’ve looked at several different ones. They’ve looked at estate planning, and I think that was not something they wanted to pursue. They’ve looked at landlord/tenant, but what makes that one difficult is if people can’t really afford to pay their rent, they really can’t afford, unfortunately, to have paid legal help. They’ve also looked at immigration. So they’re looking at areas of greatest need and then moving forward, so it’s a work in progress. I think it’s something that will continue to evolve. It’s our job as pioneers in this new legal profession to keep on top of that.

Sam Glover: Well, let’s say that happened. Let’s say they opened up immigration or real estate or something like that. Do you have to go back to school and do it over, or is there just a practice area module that you can take to expand your license, basically?

Laura Genoves: That’s exactly it, Sam. It’s just a practice module. It’d be another set of classes through the University of Washington, once again. All those classes are taught by other law school professors in our state. For example, when I did my practice in family law, we had professors from Gonzaga Law School in Spokane. We had a professor from Seattle University School of Law. It’s kind of nice, because it really is a cooperative effort.

I feel it’s exciting to be on the cutting edge of this new legal profession, because we are providing licensed, trained help to people who really need it. I have to note that almost all of legal technicians that are currently licensed do some sort of volunteer work in terms of working in legal clinics or … I’m actually leading a committee to form our own legal technician legal clinic, which will be in south Seattle hopefully soon to be able to help people with specific things, like parenting plans or child support worksheets. It’s really exciting to be on the cutting edge.

Sam Glover: Very cool. Well, thanks for telling us about it today. I really appreciate learning more about the legal technician program and about your practice. Could we call it a practice?

Laura Genoves: Yeah. It is a practice.

Sam Glover: Or your services?

Laura Genoves: It’s a limited practice, but yes, it’s a practice.

Sam Glover: Well, thanks. It’s been really helpful. I know a lot of us … Practically everybody knows about the program, but I’ve really enjoyed getting to know more about it, specifically in the context of your work. Thanks so much, Laura.

Laura Genoves: All right. Thank you for having me.

Aaron Street: Make sure to catch next week’s episode of the Lawyerist podcast by subscribing to the show in your favorite podcast app. Please leave a rating to help other people find our show. You can find the notes for today’s episode on lawyerist.com/podcast.

Sam Glover: The views expressed by the participants are their own and are not endorsed by Legal Talk Network. Nothing said in this podcast is legal advice for you.
This transcript was prepared by Rev.com.

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