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LLLTs in Washington: An Abbreviated History

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Limited License Legal Technicians (LLLTs) are a category of legal practitioner created in Washington State.  While they are not lawyers, LLLTs have a limited license to practice law.  Currently, LLLTs can only practice in the area of family law.

Some argue that the LLLT program has its roots in the 1980’s and 1990’s when the bar was tackling the issue of the unauthorized practice of law (UPL).[1]  However, most accounts place the origin of what is now the LLLT program in 2001 when the Supreme Court established the Practice of Law Board (POLB) under GR 25.[2]  The Practice of Law Board is the entity that investigates UPL complaints, but it was also tasked with making “recommendations to the Supreme Court regarding the provision of legal and law-related services by non-lawyers.”[3]  It is GR 24 that defines the practice of law in Washington.

Because legal technicians will not be able to appear in court, the proposal will not solve the problem of pro se representation.The Supreme Court commissioned the Civil Legal Needs Study in 2003.[4]  The Legal Needs Study revealed, “low-income people face more than 85 percent of their legal problems without help from an attorney.”[5]  In the Supreme Court’s 2012 Order adopting APR 28 (the rule that creates the LLLT program), the Court cites this study as evidence for the need for the LLLT program.[6]  Prior to adoption in 2012, the POLB submitted its first rule for input in 2005.  In 2006 the Washington State Bar Association’s (WSBA) Board of Governors (BOG), voted against the rule.[7]  In 2008, the POLB submitted a modified rule to the Supreme Court, without first seeking approval or input from the BOG.[8]  The BOG formally opposed the 2008 rule anyway.[9]  After each vote against the LLLT rule, the BOG documented its reasoning.  One of the major problems with the rule was that it did not solve the problem it set out to.  “Because [legal technicians] will not be able to appear in court, the proposal will not solve the problem of pro se representation.”[10]  The Washington Supreme Court solicited public comments on the proposed rule in 2009.[11]  The first class of LLLTs began in 2014 and the first licensing exam for LLLTs was held on May 11, 2015.  The first LLLTs are expected to be licensed in June 2015.

The dissent suggests that had the Supreme Court been responsible for funding the LLLT program, it would not have implemented it at all.The Supreme Court adopted LLLT Rules of Professional Conduct (RPCs) in January 2015, which were effective in February 2015.  Changes were proposed to the lawyer RPCs to mirror the LLLT RPCs, including a provision (RPC 5.9) to allow LLLTs to own law firms with lawyers, an exception to a long-standing prohibition articulated in RPC 5.4.  The Supreme Court adopted the new RPCs in March 2015, to be effective April 14, 2015.[12]  The Court did not engage in public comment for the new lawyer RPCs until after they became effective.  Comments are now being accepted on the already effective rules through November 30, 2015.[13]

It is worth noting that the WSBA BOG informally voted to oppose the LLLT program an additional four times.  The Court, on its own motion, enacted the program.  Before a single LLLT is licensed, the executives of the WSBA have touted the success of the program around the country, and the WSBA’s Executive Director has repeatedly stated to audiences that, “Washington does not consider LLLTs non-lawyers.” This despite the fact that it is clear in both the LLLT rules and other official documentation that Washington does in fact consider LLLTs non-lawyers.  The LLLT Board already has plans to expand the scope of the LLLT program and to add additional practice areas.

The licensing of limited license legal technicians will not close the Justice Gap identified in the 2003 Legal Needs Study. Nor will it solve the access to justice crisis for moderate income individuals with legal needs.The Supreme Court’s order specifically states, “the licensing of limited license legal technicians will not close the Justice Gap identified in the 2003 Legal Needs Study.  Nor will it solve the access to justice crisis for moderate income individuals with legal needs.”[14]  Instead, “it offers a sound opportunity to determine whether and, if so, to what degree the involvement of effectively trained, licensed and regulated non-attorneys may help expand access to necessary legal help in ways that serve the justice system and protect the public.”[15]  Justice Owens wrote a dissent to the order, which was also signed by Justices Fairhurst and Johnson.  The dissent agreed that there was a justice gap, but dissented from the order because the LLLT program essentially imposes a tax on the lawyers of the state to fund itself.  “This rule and its attendant regulations impose an obligation on the members of the WSBA to underwrite the considerable cost of establishing and maintaining what can only be characterized as a mini bar association within the present WSBA.”[16]  The dissent suggests that had the Supreme Court been responsible for funding the LLLT program, it would not have implemented it at all.[17]

Next week, I will post an overview of the development of similar LLLT programs throughout the US.


[1] Stephen R. Crossland & Paula C. Littlewood, The Washington State Limited License legal Technician Program, 65 S.C. L. Rev. 611, 612 (2014), available at http://www.michbar.org/generalinfo/pdfs/SCLawReviewarticle.pdf.

[2] Wash. State Bar Ass’n LLLT Board, Historical Summary of the Limited License Legal Technician Rule, available at http://www.proselex.net/Documents/LLLT.pdf.

[3] WASH. SUP. CT. GENERAL RULE 25(c)(4) (2006), available at https://www.courts.wa.gov/court_rules/?fa=court_rules.display&group=ga&set=GR&ruleid=gagr25.

[4] An updated study was conducted in 2014, but the results will not be made public until summer of 2015.

[5] Wash. State Sup. Ct. Task Force on Civil Equal Justice Funding, The Wash. State Civil Legal Needs Study (2003), available at https://www.courts.wa.gov/newsinfo/content/taskforce/CivilLegalNeeds.pdf.

[6] In the Matter of Adoption of New APR 28, Limited Practice Rule for Limited License Legal Technicians, No. 25700-A-1005 (Wash. Sup. Ct. June 15, 2012), available at http://www.wsba.org/~/media/Files/Legal%20Community/Committees_Boards_Panels/LLLT%20Board/Legal%20Technician%20Rule.ashx.

[7] Brooks Holland, The Washington State Limited License Legal Technician Practice Rule, 82 MISS. L.J. 75, 97 (2013), available at http://mississippilawjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/3_Holland_Final.pdf.

[8] Id. at 101.

[9] Id. at 105.

[10] Id.

[11] Id. at 106.

[12] In the Matter of the Expedited Adoption of Proposed Amendments to Rules of Professional Conduct, No. 25700-A-1096 (Wash. Sup. Ct. Mar. 23, 2015), available at http://www.wsba.org/~/media/Files/Legal%20Community/Committees_Boards_Panels/Committee%20on%20Professional%20Ethics/25700-A-1096.ashx.

[13] Wash. State Bar Ass’n Comm. Prof. Ethics Home Page, http://www.wsba.org/Legal-Community/Committees-Boards-and-Other-Groups/Committee-Professional-Ethics.

[14] LLLT Order, supra note 6, at 11.

[15] Id. at 11-12.

[16] Id. at Dissent 2.

[17] Id. at 5.

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