Based upon an administrative order approved by the Washington State Supreme Court on June 15, 2012, non-lawyers may offer limited assistance on simple legal matters. The Court adopted the proposed Admission to Practice (APR) Rule 28, the “Limited Practice Rule for Limited License Legal Technicians” to expand access to legal services for low and moderate income individuals in Washington state. As the order states:
“Every day across this state, thousands of unrepresented (pro se) individuals seek to resolve important legal matters in our courts. Many of these are low income people who seek but cannot obtain help from an overtaxed, underfunded civil legal aid system. Many others are moderate income people for whom existing market rates for legal services are cost-prohibitive and who, unfortunately, must search for alternatives in the unregulated marketplace.”
Attempting to bridge this access gap, the Court created a Limited License Legal Technician Board to oversee the selection and training of limited license legal technicians (LLLTs), and recommend the scope of legal services they may provide. The Board, composed of nine active Washington state lawyers and four resident non-lawyers, is also responsible for administering an examination for applicants, collecting exam and licensing fees, determining continuing education requirements, and establishing rules of conduct as well as protocols for grievance and disciplinary procedures.
The regulatory framework created by this order is intended to protect the public while advancing the goal of expanded legal services access. Not all the Justices agreed with the creation of the LLLT program, however. The order passed by a 6 – 3 majority, with one dissenting justice expressing his concern that APR 28 is “ill-considered, incorrect, and most of all extremely unfair to members of the Washington State Bar Association (WSBA).” The actual impact on the WSBA remains to be seen, although as the dissent points out, administering this program places a significant financial burden on the Bar. The rule has also generated concerns from certain practice groups within the Bar, such as family law practitioners, who anticipate a possible erosion of their business to legal technicians. This objection was noted in the order, but the majority asserted that “protecting the monopoly status of attorneys in any practice area is not a legitimate objective.” But the Court also posited that the scope of the limited legal technician’s practice would preclude court appearances or contact with opposing parties on the client’s behalf, thus preserving the advantage of full representation offered by an attorney.
Here are the key applicant requirements for licensing as outlined in the order:
1) formal paralegal training, and a minimum of two years work experience as a paralegal,
2) 20 hours of pro bono legal work within the prior two years in Washington state,
3) pass an exam and pay annual licensing fees,
4) show proof of financial responsibility if damages result from acts or omissions in the performance of services permitted by the rule,
5) complete continuing education credit hours in classes or activities approved by the board.
Upon meeting the above requirements, a limited license legal technician in good standing is allowed to:
1) obtain facts and explain their relevancy to the client,
2) inform client of procedures, document filings, deadlines, and the course of legal proceedings,
3) review documents, identify additional documents needed, and assist in obtaining them,
4) select and complete court forms,
5) perform legal research, draft letters and documents, with review and approval of Washington attorney,
6) provide self-help materials approved by the Board or prepared by a Washington attorney.
The Limited Practice Rule for Limited License Legal Technicians rule takes effect September 1, 2012, although the program infrastructure is still being finalized. It may take years to determine if this program will accomplish the goal of expanding legal services to limited income individuals, and at what ultimate cost. Regardless of the controversy surrounding this rule, the Washington State Supreme Court has taken a laudatory first step in closing the “justice gap” for low and moderate income residents in the state.
Many other resources for low-income residents in need of legal help are also available in Washington. Please see Court Reference’s Washington legal aid page for further information.