Washington State’s Unique Non-lawyer Practice Initiative: Licensing Requirements too Burdensome?

The Associated Press checks in on Washington State’s Limited License Legal Technician program.  The article notes that the LLLT program could have huge upside for low- and middle-income clients unable to afford lawyers, but also highlights LLLT’s slowness out of the gates.  The AP reports that  there is now only one licensed LLLT.  This info could be dated as the WA State Bar lists three LLLTs – an increase yet not a deluge.  And importantly, the requirements for paralegals to achieve LLLT status under present rules are burdensome:

The legal techs must complete 3,000 hours of work as a paralegal, 45 hours of core curriculum through an American Bar Association-approved legal program, and a family law course offered through the University of Washington Law School. The standards are so stringent in part because many lawyers in the state long opposed the creation of the legal tech program, fearing it would create second-class legal advice for poorer residents.

 

This is an interesting dilemma for non-lawyer practice proponents: in order to make the LLLT program more palatable to its opponents, has it been made too burdensome to attract paralegals who would otherwise seek LLLT status?  The medical community, via nurse practitioners and physician assistants, seems to have more finely stratified the professional ranks.  May anything be learned from the evolution of those models?  I don’t know the detailed history but I’d bet dollars to donuts that at some point there were a lot of physicians opposed to the movement.

Further reading: The Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) has detailed info on how LLLT works.  LLLT came about as the product of a Washington Supreme Court practice rule, and the Court then “appointed a 13-member Limited License Legal Technician Board to develop and administer the license program with administrative support from the WSBA.”

As for non-lawyer practice activity outside of the Evergreen State, the AP article reports that at least seven other states – CA, CO, FL, MN, NM, OR, and UT – have “taken steps toward launching similar programs.”  The article didn’t capture activity in NY, the momentum for which began with a 2013 NYC Bar report advocating for limited nonlawyer practice.  Richard Zorza has tracked more recent, state-level activity to legislatively advance the initiative.

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