More on Washington State Licensing Rule

I’m just now finding my way to looking closer at the new Washington Admission to Practice Rule 28 which creates a new legal service provider category named Limited License Legal Technician assisted by the post on the AAfPE LinkedIn discussion board by Sally Bisson, J.D., Professor and Director of Paralegal Program at College of Saint Mary. She links to a news release at legaco.com that provides a nice synopsis of the rule.

Those of you who have read my posts on great need for a solution to the access to justice problem in the U.S. and my strong belief that paralegals are likely to be a major part of that solution (See “Access to Justice” category) would probably guess my enthusiasm for the Court’s reasoning:

According to the Washington State Supreme Court:

“ there are people who need only limited levels of assistance that can be provided by non-lawyers trained and overseen within the frameworks of the regulator system. … This assistance should be available and affordable. Our system of justice requires it…[P]rotecting the monopoly status of attorneys in any practice area is not a legitimate objective.”

While the licensed personnel will be called “Legal Technicians” it is interesting to note the requirements for the license include paralegal training:

Requirements

In order to be licensed, Legal Technicians must:

  • have a formal paralegal training, and paralegal job experience,
  • have completed at least 20 hours of pro bono legal service in Washington State within the prior two years,
  • take and pass an exam and pay annual license fees,
  • show proof of financial responsibility,
  • have a principal place of business with a physical street address in Washington State,
  • personally perform services for the client,
  • complete a number of credit hours in courses or activities approved by the Board,
  • enter into a written contract describing their services and fees with their client prior of the performance of services.

While the license will not permit activities as extensive as those allowed in Ontario (see “Canada” category,) the list of permitted activities goes well beyond what is allow in most (if not all – I did not check California’s rules today) American jurisdictions:

Scope of Practice

Legal Technicians are allowed to:

  • explain facts and relevancy,
  • inform the client of procedures and “anticipated course of the legal proceeding,”
  • provide the client with self-help materials approved by the Board or prepared by a Washington state lawyer,
  • review and explain the other sides documents and exhibits,
  • select and complete forms approved by various groups,
  • perform legal research and write legal letters and documents, but only if reviewed by a Washington lawyer,
  • advise the client about other needed documents,
  • assist the client in obtaining needed documents.

One concern for those of us advocating an expanded role for paralegals is the ability to monitor for “bad behavior,” a task now rather cumbersomely performed indirectly through discipline of the supervising attorney. The Washington rule applies many of those rules directly to the practitioner:

Legal Technician-Client Relationship

Additionally, rules regarding attorney-client privilege and fiduciary responsibility to the client apply to the Legal Technician-client relationship to the same extent as they apply to attorney-client relationships.

I will definitely being keeping an eye on the implementation of this rule and the effects of that implementation on the public and the practitioners. In a few years perhaps we will have a report similar to that just issued on the “Ontario experiment.”

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One Comment

  • Cindy Elwell says:

    This is a great progressive ruling. The public needs help with getting through an amicable divorce whenever possible and so this is “officially” opening up a new resource to help the public. We have had a similar law in California since 2000, and Arizona also regulates legal document preparers. Plus in many states independent paralegals operate and help the public through the complex legal maze of representing themselves when they’re in agreement by helping them with the forms. I do hope you will add the California Association of Legal Document Assistants to your list of state associations; their website is: http://www.calda.org. Thanks.

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