Caution on the Road to Limited License Legal Technicians
The Washington Supreme Court, when it adopted the Limited License Legal Technician (LLLT) Rule, wrote of the need for this new profession due to the large gaps in accessing legal services for low-income and moderate means persons. Despite widespread recognition of this gap, the creation of the unprecedented LLLT has been met with skepticism by many attorneys. While the Latina/o Bar Association of Washington (LBAW) agrees wholeheartedly with the Washington Supreme Court on the need to provide a broad range of affordable legal services to low- and moderate-income populations, the experience of our communities in dealing with non-lawyers providing legal services gives us pause.
Unscrupulous “immigration assistants” and notary publics advertising themselves as notarios — a Spanish-language term for lawyers in certain Latin American countries — have preyed upon immigrants from Latin America for years. This has cost Latino immigrants thousands of dollars, their jobs, and the chance to live legally in the U.S. An investigation by the state attorney general and subsequent agency request legislation led to the passage of SB 5023 in 2011, which ended these types of non-lawyer legal services. Immigrant populations are particularly vulnerable to these types of abuses, due to language barriers and unfamiliarity with the American legal system, and there is a fine line between non-legal clerical services and practices that constitute the practice of law.
The LLLT Board wisely limited the first practice area to a single subject area: family law. As the Board gets closer to finalizing plans, we encourage them to develop a comprehensive public education program that clearly describes the limitations surrounding the services that LLLTs will provide. These outreach efforts should also be conducted in as many languages as possible to ensure that immigrant communities have access to this information in their native languages.
Discussions are already being had on the next practice area to expand into. One of the areas being discussed is immigration law. Given the aforementioned abuse in this area, LBAW would urge careful consideration and engagement with practitioners in whatever field is next being considered. Indeed, prior to deciding the next field to expand LLLTs into, a study of the positive and negative results of the first area of practice should be conducted.
As the LLLT Board moves forward in crafting education requirements, licensing, and rules of professional conduct for this new profession, we support the LLLT Board in engaging the legal community and minority bar associations to engage in this process and ensure that the system eventually adopted meets the stated goals of this new profession — a system that provides affordable, needed legal services to persons previously unable to attain them while protecting them from fraud and misconduct. As the Supreme Court stated in their rule establishing LLLTs, “Our system of justice requires it.”