In the January 2015 issue of the ABA Journal, I had an article about Washington state’s limited license legal technician (LLLT) program, which will formally license non-lawyers to deliver legal services in limited circumstances independently, without a lawyer’s supervision. The article also discussed New York’s program of court navigators and reported on other states considering programs similar to Washington’s, including California and Oregon. Since that article came out, there have been three notable developments.
Oregon Task Force Calls for Legal Technicians
In the ABA Journal piece, I noted that the Oregon State Bar had convened a Task Force on limited license legal technicians in 2013 and that its final report was expected soon. On Feb. 13, the Task Force issued its report. In it, the Task Force recommended to the OSB’s board of governors “that is 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.” The report noted that a large majority of the Task Force members — but not all of them — concurred in the recommendation.
Should the Board decide to proceed with this concept, the Task Force recommends a new Board or Task Force be established to develop the detailed framework of the program. For the reasons set out herein, the BOG should review the recently established Washington State Bar Association LLLT program and consider it as a potential model.
The report praised the Washington LLLT program as “comprehensive and well thought-out” and urged the OSB, should it decide to proceed with a legal technician program, to “review, consider and learn from Washington’s program.”
The Task Force further recommended that the first area to be licensed be family law, including guardianship. (Washington also designated family law as the first area to be licensed.) The Task Force found that 86 percent of all family law litigants in Oregon are self-represented. In 1992, it noted, that figure was just 38 percent.
Lippman Calls for Non-Lawyer Legislation in New York
The ABA Journal piece also discussed New York’s navigator program, in which nonlawyers provide free assistance to unrepresented litigants in certain housing and consumer debt cases. The program was spearheaded by New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. Now, Lippman says that the program has been so successful that he will introduce legislation calling for a further level of involvement by non-lawyers in assisting litigants.
In his 20015 state of the judiciary address, which he delivered Feb. 17, Lippman said:
I am pleased to announce today, that I intend to introduce legislation this year that calls for a further level of involvement by non-lawyers in assisting litigants. This proposal would codify a more substantial role for non-lawyers by establishing a category of service providers called “Court Advocates” in Housing Court and in consumer credit cases to assist low-income litigants.
While there is no substitute for a lawyer, the help of a well-trained non-lawyer standing by a litigant’s side is far preferable to no help at all. We have already seen what a difference it can make.
Lippman noted that New York’s Committee on Nonlawyers and the Justice Gap had recently completed a report on the navigator program and had concluded that it demonstrated “a marked difference in the behavior of litigants accompanied by Navigators — a greater ability to more clearly set out the relevant facts and circumstances and a significant increase in use of relevant defenses for those litigants.”
Washington Delays First LLLT Exam
My ABA Journal story said that Washington’s first class of LLLT applicants would sit for the licensing exam in March. That has been delayed. No date has been finalized, but the exam is now expected to be held sometime in late April or early May, according to Thea Jennings, the Washington State Bar Association staff member who helps administer the LLLT program.
The reason for the delay, Jennings said, is that the LLLT board is waiting for the Washington Supreme Court to vote on proposed amendments to the LLLT rules that would alter the exam requirements. The amendments would allow an LLLT applicant to satisfy the core examination requirement by passing the National Federation of Paralegal Association’s Paralegal Core Competency Exam. The amendment would also make the ethics portion of the exam a separate, one-time exam, graded separately from the practice area exam.
Michelle Cummings, the LLLT applicant I profiled in my ABA Journal piece, told me last week that she and other LLLT applicants have been meeting in a study group virtually every week for the past two months, preparing for the exam. Recently, the applicants were given a study guide by the LLLT board, which is helping them better focus their preparations.