In Washington State, ‘Legal Technicians’ Will Be Allowed to Help Civil Litigants
Posted Jun 19, 2012 6:36 AM CST
By Debra Cassens Weiss
Washington State's top court has approved a new rule allowing licensed legal technicians to help civil litigants navigate the court system.
The rule takes effect Sept. 1, according to a Washington courts press release. The rule allows persons who are trained and authorized by a new Limited License Legal Technician Board to help civil litigants:
• Fill out legal forms.
• Inform clients of procedures and timelines.
• Review and explain pleadings.
• Identify additional documents that might be needed in court.
The rule was recommended by the Practice of Law Board, created by the supreme court in part to recommend ways in which nonlawyers can improve access to law-related services.
The Washington Supreme Court order (PDF) approving the rule notes a “wide and ever-growing gap" in legal services for persons with lower incomes.
Many people will still require help from lawyers, the court said. “But there are people who need only limited levels of assistance that can be provided by nonlawyers trained and overseen within the frameworks of the regulator system. ... This assistance should be available and affordable. Our system of justice requires it.”
The court acknowledged concerns that the plan poses a threat to the practicing family law bar. But “protecting the monopoly status of attorneys in any practice area is not a legitimate objective,” the court said. The order also points out that the technicians won’t be allowed to negotiate with opposing parties and says the new rule “is unlikely to have any appreciable impact on attorney practice.”
The new rule is narrowly tailored, incorporates ethics requirements and includes "appropriate training, financial responsibility, regulatory oversight and accountability systems,” the court said.
Three justices dissented. “During my years on the Washington Supreme court, I have not once authored a dissent to an administrative order of this court,” Justice Susan Owens wrote. “I depart from that custom today because I have very strong feelings that our court’s decision to adopt the new [rule] is ill-considered, incorrect, and most of all extremely unfair to the members of the Washington State Bar Association.” Owens expressed concern that lawyers will be forced to underwrite the costs of the new licensing program.