Sunday, January 11, 2015
Back in October, we told you about a recommendations by the ABA's Task Force on the Future of Legal Education that state bars consider licensing non-lawyers to deliver limited legal services as a way of improving access to justice for clients who otherwise might not be able to afford a lawyer. That post also summarized an article Professor Elizabeth Chambliss (S. Carolina) discussing programs then underway by three Washington state law schools to train legal paraprofessionals who would become eligible to deliver legal services by 2015.
Well, 2015 is now here and the latest issue of the ABA Magazine has a story profiling Washington's inaugural graduating class of limited license legal technicians who at present are only permitted to offer their services in domestic relations matters. Some lawyers are understandably worried that the LLLTs are going to take work away from them though proponents argue that the LLLTs don't directly compete with lawyers because they are reaching an otherwise neglected segment of the marketplace.
Here's an excerpt from the ABA Magazine article:
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Within a profession that so guardedly polices its practice, many may see Cummings [one of the first group of LLLt's licenses in WA] and her classmates as representing the proverbial camel's nose under the tent. So far, Washington stands alone in formally licensing nonlawyers to provide legal services. But California is actively considering nonlawyer licensing, and several other states are beginning to explore it. New York has sidestepped licensing and is already allowing nonlawyers to provide legal assistance in limited circumstances while also looking to expand their use.
In its January 2014 final report, the ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education called on states to license "persons other than holders of a JD to deliver limited legal services." Now this issue of allowing nonlawyers to provide legal services is among the topics being taken up by ABA President William C. Hubbard's Commission on the Future of Legal Services.
"I fully anticipate that it will be one of the concepts that will be addressed by the commission," Hubbard says, noting that his appointees to the 28-member commission include both Barbara A. Madsen, chief justice of the Washington Supreme Court, which promulgated the LLLT rule, and Paula Littlewood, executive director of the Washington State Bar Association, which administers the LLLT program.
"The states are the laboratories of invention," Hubbard adds. "This is a good example of that. I think there is growing acceptance by regulators and private practitioners of law that we need to do things differently."
Proponents maintain there is simply no other way to address the justice gap in the United States. They cite multiple state and federal studies showing that 80 to 90 percent of low- and moderate-income Americans with legal problems are unable to obtain or afford legal representation. The economics of traditional law practice make it impossible for lawyers to offer their services at prices these people can afford.
If lawyers cannot fill the gap, the proponents say, we must find some other way.
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Continue reading here.