The mechanical-sounding name of a limited license legal technician, or LLLT, doesn’t hint at the disruptive potential this new job title could have on the legal profession.
The first LLLTs are set to be licensed in April or May in the state of Washington. California, New York and others are discussing creating the same or similar categories to address the needs of people who can’t afford lawyers to represent them in relatively low-level legal proceedings.
LLLTs in Washington will be allowed to fill out legal forms, inform clients of procedures and timelines, review and explain pleadings and identify additional documents that might be needed in court. The initial practice area is limited to domestic relations but is expected to expand to areas like wills, adoptions and bankruptcy.
The threat to law firms is that clients who do hire lawyers and paralegals to perform such tasks will now hire LLLTs for those duties. Nothing will prevents lawyers from hiring LLLTs to provide those services from their own offices, but it seems likely that LLLTs will inevitably exert downward pressure on billable hours and fees, even as the glut of unemployed attorneys continues.
Response to a need
The concept of LLLTs sprung from the perception that the number of poor people needing legal services – and unable to get them – was growing unabated. And the debate about allowing non-lawyers to provide legal services has gone national: American Bar Association President William C. Hubbard has convened a Commission on the Future of Legal Services to study that and other issues.
Robert Ambrogi reported in the Law Sites blog (http://bit.ly/1B4mXpg) that other states are following Washington’s lead. In February, the Oregon State Bar issued a report recommending that its board of governor’s “consider the general concept of a limited license for legal technicians.” The task force reported that 86 percent of all family law litigants in Oregon are self-represented, and it recommended that area be the first that its legal technicians tackle.
Gillian K. Hadfield is a professor of law and economics at the University of Southern California and a leading advocate for using non-lawyers to bridge what has been called the “access to justice gap.” She testified before the New York Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services. (http://bit.ly/1DS72u6)
“There is an urgent need for the judiciary to change the landscape of options available to those with legal needs to exercise your ultimate authority to decide who can provide legal assistance by expanding that list beyond expensive JD-trained and bar-licensed attorneys,” Hadfield said. “Of course we want some services delivered only by expensive JD-trained and bar-licensed attorneys — we only want surgery performed by surgeons too.”
Support grows across the country
That is one reason that New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, also in February, said he will introduce legislation (http://bit.ly/1M7o6y2) to expand that state’s navigator program, in which non-lawyers provide free assistance in housing and consumer debt cases.
Ambrogi wrote (http://bit.ly/1w0ItLa) that the magnitude of the justice gap is so enormous that lawyers can not close it alone. “There could never be a sufficient level of pro bono or reduced-fee services to meet the needs,” he wrote. “Study upon study has concluded that 80 to 90 percent of low and moderate income people with legal problems are unable to obtain legal representation. That is an enormous problem.”
Members of the California State Bar Board of Trustees began debating the subject in 2013. According to the California Bar Journal, (http://bit.ly/1M4bDes) board members said that a limited licensing program, in addition to helping clients, would create an avenue of employment for law school graduates and legal technicians who haven’t passed the bar. Limited practice might provide an avenue to eventually becoming a lawyer.
Your opinion here
The debate is destined to continue for some time. What do you think? Respond here with your opinion and look for it in a future blog.Tags: Law Firms, Limited License Legal Technician, Practice of Law