To some, the advent of the LLLT is old news, to others… brand spankin’ new. The Limited License Legal Technician was authorized in the state of Washington, effective September 1, 2012. In December 2012, the LLLT Board was created to hammer out the details about this new profession, including “regulations for professional conduct, exam procedures, continuing education requirements, and disciplinary procedures.” This is a national first, there being no other licensed legal professional other than attorneys in the United States.
The creation of a licensed professional who is not an attorney is a strong win for access to justice. Increasingly over the past fifty years, privately attained lawyers have been a luxury for most of the population. Hourly rates run anywhere from $100 per hour to $1,250 per hour. There are fewer and fewer lawyers administering to our poor and lower-income (and even middle class) citizens. Astronomical attorney fees is not an unheard topic in the news. In fact, high legal fees is such a focus in the media that working persons are often not even trying to retain a lawyer when they need one.
That has left us with overworked public defenders, attorneys who do pro bono work or work on the cheap, as well as self-help clinics and websites. While the use of paralegals has helped reduce legal costs, they only work for lawyers and their rates can exceed $100 per hour.
Generally speaking, the criminal defendant is the luckiest in that court-appointed lawyers are built into our constitution. However, plaintiffs with non-contingency cases, estate planning or probate matters, small business conflicts or other matters, or real estate problems, are often left without representation. Throw in the family law problems, housing, medical care conflicts… the list goes on.
Self-help legal services are beneficial, no question. Registered document preparers and self-help clinics have been tremendous boosts in access to justice. LegalZoom and Nolo.com are two self-help sites that are booming and very effective at putting the law into the people’s hands, but many legal conflicts are far too complex to pursue without educated legal assistance. Licensed legal assistance.
What is a Limited License Legal Technician?
According to Washington’s Supreme Court, the LLLT Rule will “authorize certain persons to render limited legal assistance or advice in approved practice areas of law.” (Washington’s Admission to Practice Rules, Rule 28 ). In other words, these specially trained individuals will be able to practice law to a very limited scope in limited areas.
What are the areas that LLLTs can practice in?
The only area of practice to be approved by the Washington Supreme Court is family law. It was approved in March, 2013. Other areas are being considered for future approval.
If I get a license, what can I actually do as a LLLT?
According to APR 28, a person who practices in an approved area of law can do the following tasks:
(1) Obtain relevant facts, and explain the relevancy of such information to the client;
(2) Inform the client of applicable procedures, including deadlines, documents which must be filed, and the anticipated course of the legal proceeding;
(3) Inform the client of applicable procedures for proper service of process and filing of legal documents;
(4) Provide the client with self-help materials prepared by a Washington lawyer or approved by the Board, which contain information about relevant legal requirements, case law basis for the client’s claim, and venue and jurisdiction requirements;
(5) Review documents or exhibits that the client has received from the opposing side, and explain them to the client;
(6) Select and complete forms that have been approved by the State of Washington, either through a governmental agency or by the Administrative Office of the Courts or the content of which is specified by statute; federal forms; forms prepared by a Washington lawyer; or forms approved by the Board; and advise the client of the significance of the selected forms to the client’s case;
(8) Advise a client as to other documents that may be necessary to the client’s case (such as exhibits, witness declarations, or party declarations), and explain how such additional documents or pleadings may affect the client’s case;
(9) Assist the client in obtaining necessary documents, such as birth, death, or marriage certificates.
Primarily, the difference lies in the limited legal advice permitted to be given to clients. Take task number 1, for instance. The language says that an LLLT can, “explain the relevancy of [the facts] to the client.” This is independent legal analysis. The LLLT, in other words, can explain to his or her client the reason they might be liable for failing to watch where they were driving. In self-help, such a thing could not be explained.
Similarly in task number 6, the LLLT can “select and complete forms,” as well as “advise the client of the significance of the selected forms to the client’s case.” Once again, this is independent legal analysis that is being conveyed to the client. This far exceeds the authorized activities of an assistant in self-help. While legal document assistants (or other document preparers) can explain language on a form, they cannot explain how that language applies to the client. Further, LLLTs can choose the forms; preparers cannot, being limited to what the client brings them.
As such, the LLLT is much more helpful to a client.
How is the LLLT different from a paralegal?
A paralegal, too, cannot give any legal advice to a client, nor can a paralegal work independently with a client. All work a paralegal does is subject to the review of the lawyer. The paralegal works directly for the lawyer, not the client. The LLLT, on the other hand, can work directly with clients and act independently from an attorney. Do not forget though, that the LLLT is still limited in certain tasks. The LLLT is NOT a lawyer.
Ok, then how is the LLLT different from a lawyer?
According to task number 7, if the LLLT performs “legal research and draft legal letters and documents,” the work must be reviewed and approved by a Washington lawyer. So in that sense, if the LLLT does work beyond approved forms, the LLLT needs a Washington lawyer to review and approve the work, similar to a paralegal and very different from a lawyer. There are more limitations listed below.
How do I become a Limited Licensed Legal Technician?
Well, you can’t do it yet, but as soon as the State of Washington approves the process, you will be expected to do the following according to the APR 28:
1. You have to be 18 years old.
2. You must have good moral character and “demonstrate fitness to practice.”
3. You need appropriate education (similar to paralegal education) and must perform 20 hours of pro bono legal service.
4.. You will need to apply for the license and pay the appropriate fees (which includes the exam fee), all to be determined.
5. You must take and pass an exam. What’s on it? Details coming soon.
6. Each year you will pay a license fee. How much? Details coming soon.
7. You will have to complete required continuing education each year, the number and substance to be determined.
8. Finally, you must show that you can pay for any damages that might be obtained against you. Most likely this will be a bond similar to a legal document preparer.
I’ve been in practice a LONG time as a paralegal, do I really have to do all that stuff?
Well. you might be in luck. Beginning in August, 2013, if you are a paralegal with more than ten years of substantive experience, you will be able to apply for the license. You will still have to take the exam and satisfy the moral background requirement, but the education and pro-bono hours will be waived. The waiver procedure will be posted at the Washington State Bar Association website soon. For more information on the approval by the Washington Supreme Court, check here and here.
What can the LLLT NOT do? What are the prohibited acts of the LLLT?
The key word to know is “limited.” The LLLT is limited in the following ways:
1. The LLLT cannot make any statement that he or she can or will obtain special favors from or has special influence with any court or governmental agency;
2. He or she cannot retain any fees or costs for services not performed;
3. He or she cannot refuse to return documents supplied by, prepared by, or paid for by the client, upon the request of the client. These
documents must be returned upon request even if there is a fee dispute between the Limited License Legal Technician and the client;
4. He or she cannot claim to be a lawyer or anything other than an LLLT.
5. He or she cannot represent a client in court proceedings, formal administrative adjudicative proceedings, or other formal dispute resolution process, unless permitted Washington law.
6. He or she cannot negotiate the client’s legal rights or responsibilities, or communicate with another person the client’s position or convey to the client the position of another party, unless permitted by Washington law.
7. He or she cannot provide services to a client in connection with a legal matter in another state, unless permitted by the laws of that state to perform such services for the client;
8. Represent or otherwise provide legal or law related services to a client, except as permitted by law.
9. He or she cannot otherwise violate the Limited License Legal Technicians’ Rules of Professional Conduct.
The Limited License Legal Technician is the future of legal access. It’s very exciting, very interesting, and will be a greatly needed asset for persons who right now cannot afford an attorney. The California State Bar Board of Trustees is currently studying the LLLT for use in our state, among a host of other states. Washington will be under the watch of the entire legal industry. More news to come, I have no doubt.
- Limited License Legal Technician (Santa Barbara Bar Association)
- Will California Threaten Lawyer Livelihood with Legal Technicians? (findlaw.com)
- Washington State Leads The Way To Affordable Legal Services (simplejustice.us)
- Limited-licensing for Paralegals: It’s Finally a Reality (estrinlegaled.typepad.com)