Posts Tagged ‘legal technician’

Washington State Licensing Board Moving Forward – with Paralegal Help

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

We’ve previously noted the new Washington Admission to Practice Rule 28 which creates a new legal service provider category named Limited License Legal Technician. The NFPA LinkenIn Group discussion board recently posted the following announcement:

Brenda Cothary, President of the Washington State Paralegal Association, has been appointed by the Washington State Supreme Court to serve on the Limited License Legal Technician Board.

Washington recently passed a law where certain paralegals can provide services directly to the public. Brenda will be on the inaugural board which will establish the requirements and procedures for paralegals who wish to work in this capacity. Brenda is very excited to be appointed and NFPA is proud of the work that WSPA members put into this project.

I join in congratulating Brenda and extend that congratulations to all the WSPA members who worked on moving the profession forward. Not every paralegal will or can be appointed to boards of this nature, but each can contribute to their own professional growth and the growth of the profession by actively participating in professional associations, civic affairs, and pro bono projects.

More on Washington State Licensing Rule

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

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.”

Paralegal or Legal Technician?

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

The Seattle Timesreports on an owner of a “paralegal firm” charged with unauthorized practice of law. The story describes complaints brought against the owner and the owner’s interesting responses to the charges. Overall, though, the story is quite similar to others describing the ongoing conflict between “independent” paralegals and those seeking to penalize UPL.

Of more interest to me than the details of this particular conflict was the story’s reference to “The state Practice of Law Board …created by the state Supreme Court in 2001 to enforce rules prohibiting individuals and organizations from engaging in unauthorized legal and law-related services, as well as to promote affordable and reliable legal services.” At least the Supreme Court recognized the need to balance access to justice concerns with UPL concerns (whether those concerns rests in protecting the public or the bar. ) However, it set me to wondering what the Board had done on the second aspect of its duties: promoting affordable and reliable legal services.

Looking at the Board’s website, it does appear that the Board’s focus is on the UPL aspect of its duties rather than the access to justice aspect. It’s home page recites that the Board is required to:

* promote expanded access to affordable and reliable legal and law-related services;
* expand public confidence in the administration of justice;
* make recommendations regarding the circumstances under which nonlawyers may be involved in the delivery of certain types of legal and law-related services;
* enforce rules prohibiting individuals and organizations from engaging in unauthorized legal and law-related services that post a threat to the general public;
* ensure that those engaged in the delivery of legal services in the state of Washington have the requisite skill and competencies necessary to serve the public.

The Board has found over 40 instances of UPL in its history. While  it has apparently taken only one step on the access to justice side, that step appears to be a major one:

The Board also works on developing a pilot project of its proposed Legal Technician Rule. This rule allows trained, tested and licensed non-lawyers to provide specifically defined legal services without supervision by a lawyer.

The website provides additional information regarding the Legal Technician Rule:

[T]he Board has developed a  proposed APR creating Legal Technicians.  Legal Technicians are envisioned to be educated, tested and certified nonlawyers authorized to provide limited legal services in specific areas.  The proposed APR creates a commission to assist in regulating the legal technicians.  Here are the proposed regulations rules for that commission. The Board wrote an article explaining the vision for legal technicians.  The POL Board asked for input from invited guests during its April, May, and July 2006 meetings.  During the October 2006 retreat, the Board set up four sub-committees.  These sub-committees will investigate the feasibility of a legal technician pilot project in four areas of substantive law.  The four sub-committees are: family law, immigration law, elder law and housing law.

Here’s the general statement of what the Elder Law Subcommittee has decided:

The Elder Law Sub Committee of the Practice of Law Board recommends that legal
technicians be authorized to perform certain basic legal tasks in the following areas, when a
matter is uncontested: guardianship law, basic estate planning, probate law, and vulnerable
adult proceedings. These areas were identified by the Sub Committee because the legal
community has already developed model forms to perform many of the basic legal tasks in
these areas. More complex or contested elder law issues do not lend themselves well to a
form based practice and, therefore, should be handled by licensed attorneys.
Those model forms are used currently by pro se litigants with little or no instruction from
attorneys; sometimes with success and sometimes with unexpected results. The frequency of
unexpected outcomes can be reduced with improved access to legal professionals with elder
law training.

However, in 2008 the Board proposed a rule that applied only to Family Law.  Later in 2008 the State Bar Association Access to Justice Committee asked the Supreme Court to form a task force to implement the rule noting:

The proposed Rule, with its advice and advocacy enhancements, is intended to increase access to justice. With the availability of more advocates, more people will have access to legal assistance for their family law matters. The Rule is intended to open up the availability of limited legal services to those who fall into the populations noted above. The Rule is very technical and is probably not well understood within the legal community. It is not perfect, but seldom is any law or rule. If, after implementation, it is determined that the Rule isn’t working, it can be modified or repealed. For now, the Rule is a step in the right direction and merits the support of the ATJ Board.
We understand many interested parties oppose the Rule. However, this important issue has been ignored for far too long and the ATJ Board must exercise creative leadership on this matter consistent with the ATJ Board’s mission.

There is no information on the site as to what has happened since with regard to this Rule or the pilot project. If any of you know the present status of this adventure, I’d be pleased to hear from you.