The Washington State Supreme Court is considering rules that would move the state one step closer to licensing non-lawyers to help consumers with certain legal matters. The court is reviewing proposed rules regarding limited license legal practitioners (LLLTs). These trained and licensed service providers would be able to provide certain forms of assistance to people needing assistance with family law matters. We wrote previously about LLLTs, describing what services they will and won't be able to provide consumers. Essentially, LLLTs will have training roughly equivalent to a paralegal and will be allowed to guide customers through legal processes, but will not be allowed to represent them in court.
The first class of LLLTs is currently finishing its training, so the court is finalizing ethics rules that would govern this new profession. Responsive Law submitted testimony to the court reemphasizing the need for this new profession, and urging the court to loosen proposed restrictions on the form that LLLT businesses can take. These restrictions would make it more difficult for LLLTs to work independently from lawyers and to form the type of creative business structures that could allow them to best serve their customers. You can read our testimony to the court here.
The Connecticut Bar Association Task Force on the Future of Legal Education and Standards of Admission has recommended that state regulators allow persons other than licensed lawyers to practice law under certain restrictive guidelines. In evaluating various procedures and practices in Connecticut, the task force has suggested, among other things, that court rules be modified so as to permit non-lawyers to provide basic legal services to legal consumers. While proposals for lowering the cost of a JD and shortening the law school curriculum from a three-year program to a two-year one were rejected, the task force recognized that “much legal work is already being performed by individuals with credentials less than fully licensed attorneys” and that there is and would still be a demand for these sorts of professionals.
Connecticut Superior Court Judge Kenneth Shluger, who chaired the task force commented that, “[t]here is an unmet need for legal representation”. Opponents of expanding the practice of law to non-lawyers have questioned non-lawyers’ ability to provide safe and reliable legal assistance to consumers. However, Judge Shluger has laid that concern to rest in noting that these non-lawyers would be “highly educated and trained in specific practice areas.” The task force’s recommendation requires that the non-lawyers undergo post-bachelor’s degree training somewhere between that of a paralegal and a lawyer. This has been likened to the middle ground a nurse practitioner occupies between a nurse and a doctor.
According to the task force, these “super paralegals” would be most useful, initially, in areas of practice where there are a high volume of individuals representing themselves—simple divorces, small claims, and landlord-tenant disputes. Under the nurse practitioner model, legal consumers who do not have the funds to hire an attorney and would otherwise be forced to handle the matter themselves would now have the option to have a super paralegal assist with their claim or dispute.
Last summer, in a precursor to the recommendation of the Connecticut task force, the American Bar Association’s Task Force on the Future of Legal Education recommended that state regulators license non-lawyers to provide specific legal services to advise and assist consumers in specific areas of law. The states of Washington and California have begun down this path already. Washington is about to begin licensing Limited License Legal Technicians (LLLTs). The state’s LLLT board approved family law as the first area in which these trained non-lawyers will be allowed to provide assistance, and is set to begin licensing these professionals by Spring 2015.
In California, licensing non-lawyers has been heavily debated with points of contention lying around how changes will affect job security for lawyers. However, in a state where 80% of state divorce litigants are self-represented, LLLTs could bring a great deal of relief and efficiency. The State Bar of California held public debates on this issue. After testimony largely supportive of LLLTs, The Limited License Working Group endorsed taking further steps towards licensing LLLTs.
Elisheva Aneke is a Responsive Law intern.