Thursday, June 11, 2020

Washington State (prospectively) terminates its pioneering program of non-lawyer technicians (LLLTs)

Long time readers of this blog will remember that I have posted many comments about or related to Washington's program that allows non-lawyers to provide certain limited legal services.  When it was created, it was the first of its kind and was widely celebrated as a good idea that would facilitate access to legal services and therefore help "bridge the gap" between available legal services and unmet legal needs.  It was expected to grow over time and since its creation, several other states adopted similar models.

So, I am not happy to report that in a surprise move (at least to me), the Washington Supreme Court has decided to terminate the program.  Or, maybe "terminate" is not the right word because current legal technicians in good standing may continue to be licensed and may continue to provide services. Individuals already in the pipeline as of June 4, 2020, who can complete all the requirements to be licensed as a LLLT by July 31, 2021, may do so. No new LLLTs will be admitted after that date.  The ABA Journal has more details on the story here.

In a very short letter to the director of the program, the Chief Justice of the state supreme court explained that
The LLLT program was created in 2012 as an effort to respond to unmet legal needs of Washington residents who could not afford to hire a lawyer. Through this program,  licensed legal technicians were able to provide narrow legal services to clients in certain family law matters. The program was an innovative attempt to increase access to legal services. However, after careful consideration of the overall costs of sustaining the program and the small number of interested individuals, a majority of the court determined that the LLLT program is not an effective way to meet these needs, and voted to sunset the program. 
I am disappointed that the program did not survive.  I am now even more interested to see how similar programs do in other states.  I am also curious to see if Washington will try to come up with an alternative.

The vote to end the program was not unanimous and in a separate letter, Justice Barbara A. Madsen said that she “passionately” disagreed with the court’s vote stating that "[t]he elimination of the LLLT license, which was created to address access to justice across income and race, is a step backward in this critical work. It is not the time for closing the doors to justice but, instead, for opening them wider.”  You can read the full letter here.

LawSites has a comment here.

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