In 2012, the Washington Supreme Court made the state the first in the country to allow non-lawyers to practice law in limited areas, namely, family law. The changes to the rules led to the creation of a new designation of legal professionals known as Limited Licensed Legal Technicians (LLLTs).
To become an LLLT, applicants must be at least 18 years old and must successfully complete a year-long educational program. After successfully completing the coursework and passing the examinations, the LLLT must gain a certain amount of experience while being supervised by a licensed family law attorney. Once all the requirements are met, an LLLT must carry legal malpractice insurance and attend continuing education classes in order to practice.
A practicing LLLT is not a lawyer and cannot represent clients in court. Instead, the LLLT can help clients with the more administrative side of family law, including explaining court deadlines and helping clients gather and file documents in their case. Many in the legal industry have drawn comparisons between LLLTs in the legal industry and nurse practitioners in the medical field—though nurse practitioners are not doctors, they can prescribe medicine and treat patients on a limited basis.
The LLLT program was created to help the state fulfill the needs of low-income residents who needed assistance with family matters. Many people with limited incomes are unable to hire a lawyer for divorce or child custody matters, and unlike in criminal court, individuals have no right to a court-appointed attorney for family law issues. Rather than force low-income people to rely on the internet for information about proceeding on a pro se basis, the Supreme Court created this program as a stopgap to meet these particular needs. For now, the LLLT program only allows practitioners to work in the areas of family law. However, the state will likely extend the program to other areas of law in the future.
Pros and Cons
The LLLT program will be helpful for many people who do not have the means to hire a lawyer for their family law issue. If the choice is between proceeding with no legal help, and receiving assistance on a limited basis, many people will be more successful in court with an LLLT assisting them.
In addition, some people with very basic or uncomplicated divorces may not need the full range of services than an attorney can offer. In these instances, a little help may be all that the parties need in order to proceed.
While the program will alleviate some of the state’s legal needs, many attorneys are concerned that the parties in a family law case will be harmed by the LLLT program. LLLTs do not receive the education that an attorney receives, and will not be able to adequately assist people with complicated legal issues. The LLLT may not have the experience or training necessary to identify potential problems in a case, and may not be able to fully address all of person’s concerns.
Additionally, since the LLLTs cannot represent clients in court, people who hire LLLTs will still have to attend hearings and make arguments on their own without the assistance of an attorney. For many people, especially those in bitter or contentious divorces, the prospect of going it alone in court is both scary and ill-advised.
Finally, there is no guarantee that hiring an LLLT will be significantly cheaper than hiring a lawyer. While the program was intended to help low-income Washingtonians, there is no requirement that LLLTs must set affordable prices, and successful LLLTs will be able to charge whatever they want. If the rates end up being similar, clients would be better off hiring a lawyer who can provide a full range of services versus an LLLT who can only perform limited functions.
Help for Clients
Hopefully, the LLLT program will allow low-income residents to gain some guidance in their family law case without the expense of hiring an attorney. For many people, however, an LLLT will not be able to meet all of their family law needs.
At Pacific Northwest Family Law, our attorneys have the education and experience needed to anticipate problems in a family law case, and have the ability to fully represent your interests in court. Our lawyers will be with you every step of the way, and will help you protect yourself and your children during a divorce.
For help with your divorce, contact our office today by calling 509-572-3700.