Tuesday, June 9, 2015

WA pioneers new legal help for low-to-moderate incomes — "legal technicians"

Posted By on Tue, Jun 9, 2015 at 1:04 PM

You probably haven't even heard of a legal technician. That's because the only-in-Washington profession is brand new. 

Sooner or later, you may very well want to partake in one of these professionals' services. Hopefully later, though, because so far only seven aspiring Limited License Legal Technicians have passed the exam. The first crop of legal technicians should receive their licenses later this month, at which point their technical scarcity will likely put their services in high demand.

"I unfortunately have no idea what the turnaround time will be for the WSBA to present my application to the Supreme Court," says soon-to-be-the-first-ever legal technician Michelle Lynn-Moore Cummings, who plans to keep working at the Fiori Law Office in Auburn where she is currently a paralegal. "I am very excited about this new program as it will allow our office to offer an additional option to our clients within the practice."

Why make a whole new legal profession? A 2003 study found that more than 80 percent of people with legal needs and low-to-moderate incomes went without an attorney for financial reasons.

Why can’t people just represent themselves? Yes, people can — and do — represent themselves, but it’s messy and less-than-ideal for justice outcomes and system efficiency. All those people trying to navigate the court system sans attorney are not only placing themselves at a personal disadvantage (lawyers go to school for three years to learn how to fill out all those forms and file briefs and whatever else lawyers do), they are also bogging down the courts.

What types of cases will LLLTs handle? A legal tech won’t be suing anyone for malpractice or defending a drug lord against criminal charges. The new class of professionals will handle family law only, at least at first. “The LLLT Board is considering expansion into elder law, landlord tenant disputes and immigration,” says Washington State Bar Association Communications Officer Debra Carnes.

Will other states follow? Washington's fellow innovator, Colorado, is already getting into the game.

What can a legal technician do? Help fill out forms, draft documents, explain complicated jargon and, most importantly, offer legal advice. If you’ve ever tried asking a court clerk, paralegal or investigator for advice, you’ve probably had to hear about how only lawyers can give that stuff. Which is a total pain because attorney time is only really available at a hefty hourly rate. The LLLTs won’t be allowed to represent clients on court.

Where will the legal technicians be located, geographically? The WSBA lists the soon-to-be legal investigators; they seem to be concentrated in Auburn (apparently they are all female, too, at least for the time being). Here are their names:
  • Leisa Bulick (White Salmon)
  • Christine Carpenter (Auburn)
  • Michelle Cummings (Auburn)
  • Kimberly Lancaster (Shoreline)
  • Melodie Nicholson (Auburn)
  • Priscilla Selden (Entiat)
  • Angela Wright (Granite Falls)
How do I know someone is actually a LLLT? Once the licenses are sent out you will be able to verify if someone is actually an LLLT here.

How do I become an LLLT? Aspiring LLLT candidates should possess an associate’s degree and complete 45 credit hours of curriculum followed by family-law courses that are currently only offered at the University of Washington School of Law. Then there is an exam to pass and 3,000 hours of attorney-supervised experience required. Also, an oath before the Washington Supreme Court.

How much will it cost to get help from an legal technician? The new professionals will set their own rates; we’ll have to wait and find out what those will be.

“Washington is forging new ground in being the first state in the nation to license this new level of legal service provider,” says Carnes.
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