In 2012, the Supreme Court of Washington state enacted a rule allowing non-lawyers to practice law in a limited capacity after specialized training. According to a March 13, 2015 Washington Post article titled Who says you need a law degree to practice law?, twenty-nine of Washington’s colleges offer the requisite courses in civil procedure, legal research, contracts and family law. Once the training is completed and they pass a licensing exam, the graduates apprentice with an attorney for 3,000 hours before they can practice on their own.
‘They’re highly trained in a specific field of law,’ says Steve Crossland, who chairs the LLLT [Limited License Legal Technician] board. ‘In some ways, it’s more intensive training than what a lawyer gets.’
Washington’s program provides legal services to poor and middle class people who cannot afford traditional legal services, people who would otherwise have to represent themselves – sometimes with dire consequences.
‘The consequences can be failure to understand or enforce an order that can prevent ongoing violence or protect the safety of kids. It can mean losing the right to continue to live in one’s home.’
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‘We have people come in who relied on a friend who thought he knew how to fill out paperwork, . . . Then they’d go to court and get creamed. They’ll come to us, and we’ll look at their paperwork and it’s a disaster.’
Given the reduction in funds for legal aid, Washington’s LLLT program is filling a void for the legal services industry. And, California, Oregon, Colorado and New Mexico are reportedly considering similar programs.
‘We need to take a leaf from the medical profession, which has long recognized that people with health problems can be helped by a range of assistance providers with far less training than licensed physicians,’ New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said in his 2014 state of the judiciary report. ‘We all accept that. Why not the same in the law?’
Why not indeed.