Thursday, December 3, 2015

Nearly all members of the Washington Practice of Law Board resign accusing the Washington State Bar Association of systematically undermining the Board's mission

As I have argued before, the "hottest" issue in professional responsibility today is the notion of "innovation" which is shorthand for a discussion on new approaches to providing legal services.  And one of the most important recent developments on the subject was the approval of a proposal in Washington state to allow (and to regulate) the provision of limited legal services by state certified legal technicians (known as Limited License Legal Technicians, or LLLTs).  I discussed this development here and here

By taking this approach, Washington state became the leader in the discussion of innovative ways to provide access to legal representation.  Yet, it appears this came at a cost, and that things are not running as smoothly as I thought.

Last month, nearly all members of the Washington Practice of Law Board accusing the Washington State Bar Association of systematically undermining the Board's mission.  The resigning members sent a letter to the Washington Supreme Court detailing their concerns in which they state that "the Washington State Bar Association has a long record of opposing efforts that threaten to undermine its monopoly on the delivery of legal services" including the fact that "[t]he Washington State Bar Association opposed the Limited License Legal Technician Rule..."  You can read the full letter here.  It ends by stating that "[t]he treatment of the Practice of Law Board over the last three years is a textbook study on how to discourage and disempower a board comprised of volunteers ..."

The Washington State Bar Association has replied that the letter contains “significant misinterpretations and misunderstandings” and that “[a]ccess to justice and the protection of the public are unwavering commitments shared by the Washington Supreme Court and the Washington State Bar Association.”  Lawyerist and the ABA Journal have the story here and here.

The assertion that the Bar Association has tried "to protect its monopoly on the delivery of legal services" is not surprising in the sense that that has always been part of the debate on issues of innovation.  A lot of the recent discussion on innovation deals with opening the doors to the market of legal services to non-lawyers and it is not uncommon to hear the accusation that lawyers try to keep the doors closed in order to protect their control on the market. 

I don't have any information to know whether this accusation is true or accurate when it comes to the Washington Bar Association, but it is a common argument with the larger debate on how to make legal services more accessible, more affordable though innovation.

As you probably know, the ABA has created a Commission on the Future of Legal Services to study these issues. 


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