Calif. Bar Task Force Calls for Legal Technician Pilot Program

I have been closely following the emerging issue of licensing non-lawyers to deliver legal services in limited circumstances. In the January 2015 ABA Journal, I had an article about Washington state’s limited license legal technician (LLLT) program, and last weekend I had an opinion piece in The Washington Post about the same topic.

Gradually, other states are moving towards adopting programs similar to Washington’s. A few weeks ago, I noted here that an Oregon State Bar task force on limited license legal technicians issued its report recommending to the OSB’s board of governors “that it consider the general concept of a limited license for legal technicians as one component of the BOG’s overall strategy for increasing access to justice.”

Now, in California, the State Bar’s Civil Justice Strategies Task Force has published for public comment a draft report that calls for a LLLT pilot program in that state.

As I noted in my ABA Journal article, the State Bar in March 2013 appointed a Limited License Working Group to look at whether California should adopt a program similar to Washington’s. In July 2013, the working group came out in favor of the concept and urged the bar to conduct an expanded study.

In November 2013, the bar appointed the Civil Justice Strategies Task Force to study the access-to-justice crisis and develop an action plan for addressing it. Earlier this month, the Task Force released the draft of its report and published it for public comments.

Among the recommendations included in the report is to establish a pilot LLLT program:

Limited License Legal Technicians (LLLT): The State Bar should study the design of a pilot program, in one subject matter area, and, with input from the Supreme Court, address how the governance, oversight, and “licensing” would be handled. It is important to allow the time for the Court to have input at the early stages, rather than after design is complete.

Another recommendation is to use non-lawyers as court navigators, based on the New York program I described in the ABA Journal piece:

Navigators: A program should be designed to be piloted in one or more self-help centers, to provide volunteer assistance to self-represented litigants in attending hearings. Permission should be requested to have the navigator sit at counsel table 19 with the litigant, but not to address the court. Based on experience in other jurisdictions, the focus should be on this as a volunteer program, not as a for-profit method of assistance.

Comments are being accepted until May 11, 2015.

 

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  • Jim mahacek

    coupled with better affordability for consumers must be better financial protection for consumers. I believe that most things they could do are not financially attractive to lawyers any way so no loss. But since they have limited education and training errors will be frequent. Accordingly the program must include MANDATORY INSURANCE to more fully protect the consumer.

    • Erick Porras

      I do agree with the insurance idea, however in the medical field they have nurse practitioners doing doctors work and have not created big problems, in fact it has help increase medical services to the communities. Education is not the same but the services still being rendered with quality and at high end medical facilities.
      The ABA Should move out of conservatism. You need not to be a lawyer to provide legal services if you have legal education background, for example there are many new careers like Master in Legal studies, Bachelor in Paralegal Studies, etc.
      Majority of paralegals do most of the work for attorney’s including drafting of motion, research and almost all legal related work except court representation which in many instances they might be able to do better than the attorney.
      There is big problem providing legal services, attorney fees are way to high, something most be done. Allow non-lawyers to provide legal services.

  • A lawyer

    Disclosure: I’m a lawyer, but I’m not licensed in any of the states that the article discusses.

    I don’t like the parts of the various linked articles that suggest a licensed technician could work in any subject matter, but be limited to certain activities. For example, the idea that they can prepare contracts seems foolish, because drafting a contract for a specific client requires deeper knowledge of the client’s business and the regulations that apply to it.

    But it seems to me that there is a very strong case to be made for licensing non-lawyers to do work in specific subject matters, with lighter activity limitations. One of the restrictions I’d suggest (with very limited exceptions) is that, while the subject-matter licensees could appear in court to defend cases for the defendant, they could not file cases as plaintiff. That naturally limits them to a narrow subject matter, so that they can’t get blind-sided by something well outside their expertise. Maybe the answer is that they could file claims in small-claims court, but the possibility of a large counter-claim is problematic. For example, I’d endorse all of the following subject matters:
    1. Immigration, maybe with a restriction on not appearing in deportation hearings.
    2. Defense of traffic tickets and sub-misdemeanor infractions that can’t result in jail time.
    3. Defense of residential eviction proceedings; but then there is the problem of how to handle lockouts, which would require a filing; maybe those could be sent to small claims court.
    4. Defense of collection proceedings; but then there is a problem with prosecuting a related case against the debt collector. Again, maybe they could go to small claims court.
    5. Divorce cases, except where custody of the kids is in issue.
    6. Probate for situations where there is no contested court proceeding.
    7. Personal bankruptcy.
    8. Personal income tax defense (which would become open to accountants, for a double benefit, though preparing and defending the same return could be a conflict of interest).

    • Erick Porras

      I have a bachelor’s degree on legal studies, and believe I think must lawyers underestimate people’s abilities for people like me or maybe paralegal with a degree. I’d l like the idea of limited representation and I believe maybe using the limited cases formula or amount it should be the scope of the limitations. Any unlimited should be handled by a license attorney. The problem we are facing is to find out ways on closing the gap of no representation, by not allowing the technician to be able to represent someone in court still will not resolve the problem. Keep in mind that the technician will be licensed in a specific area of the law, in other words he has to meet the requirements and knowledge standards to be able to get a limited license by the bar.
      I’m very knowledgeable in all areas of the law, and able to draft any legal document whether or not supervised by an attorney, they are professional draft documents either for plaintiff or the defendant.

  • Erick Porras

    What’s the purpose of having a navigator to go to court with you just to sit down and say nothing. If you are going to licence someone on an specific area, this person it should be knowledgeable enough to represent the client before the court. Experience litigaying will be acquire through the process. New attorney’s have no experience still just because they are so call attorney’s are permitted to represent clients even though in many instances they fail to perform.
    Many long time attorney’s also do not provide professional proper representation, they act like the client work for them when in actuality is the other way around. That’s because they feel they know it all about the law. Botton line allow non-lawyers to practice law even in a limited specific area of the law.