Changes in Washington Practice (#1) / Status report on the new legal technician program

November 7, 2013

Washington State LawIn 2012, the Washington Supreme Court approved new rule APR 28 that provides the basis for the licensing of non-attorney legal practitioners called Limited License Legal Technicians (LLLTs). An LLLT Board was to be established to implement the program.

The LLLT Board began its work in January, 2013, and plans to start accepting applications for the licensing exam in 2014. Family law has been approved as the first licensing area.

During 2013, the educational and experience requirements for the program have been revised, and a new waiver regulation has been added  to exempt paralegal professionals with appropriate experience from the formal educational requirements.

More detailed regulations about the scope of practice for LLLTs licensed in domestic relations were approved in August, 2013. The next scheduled meetings for the LLLT Board are in November and December, 2013.

In the Order establishing APR 28, the Court explained that a major objective of the program would be to provide narrowly-defined types of assistance to individuals who otherwise would be unrepresented in dealing with legal issues.

LLLTs are to “engage in discrete legal and law related activities”; family law was selected to be an initial area of emphasis.

The Court also addressed concerns over possible “threats” by LLLTs to clients and the public, explaining that a regulatory framework was to be preferred over unstructured approaches to non-attorney legal services.

According to the Court press release at the time, Justices Johnson, Owens, and Fairhurst dissented from the Order for the new rule.

In his dissent, Justice Owens stated that he disagreed with the rule partially because of the new obligations being taken on by members of the WSBA to underwrite the costs associated with what was to be a “mini-bar” association within the WSBA.

In general, domestic relations LLLTs may help clients initiate and respond to actions, and provide assistance with “motions, discovery, trial preparation, temporary and final orders, and modification of orders….”

LLLTs may not provide services related to child custody actions; assets that require a supplemental order to divide and award; bankruptcy; domestic violence-related actions; major parenting plan modifications; the taking of depositions; and a variety of other specific activities.

It is yet to be determined how many individuals will complete the requirements for becoming an LLLT, and what impact will result on the representation problems associated with family law.

Other issues yet to be addressed are how well LLLTs and attorneys will relate in practice settings, and the financial impact of the program on attorney practices, the WSBA, and the public.

It is to be hoped that in-detail evaluation protocols have been prepared; that these evaluations will be conducted with care; and that the results will be made publically available on a timely basis.

Information about Rules Practice may be found in Washington Practice volumes 2 through 4B by Tegland, and by making use of the extracts, summaries and other legal resource materials to be found in Methods of Practice, volumes 1 to 1C of Washington Practice, by Cheryl Mitchell and Ferd Mitchell of Mitchell Law Office.