Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Washington Supreme Court vote to eliminate the non-lawyer limited license legal technician (LLLT) program. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Debra L. Stephens, sent a letter on June 5, 2020 to the Washington State Bar Association President and Acting Executive Director, and the Chair of the LLLT Board announcing the decision.
The Washington Supreme Court had approved the creation of this first legal license for nonlawyers in the United States in 2015 and several other states have now implemented, or have considered implementing, similar programs. Justice Stephens and Justice Barbara A. Madsen, who was the chief justice when the court approved the LLLT program in 2012, dissented from the vote.
The June 5 letter states: “The program was an innovative attempt to increase access to legal services,” Stephens wrote in her letter. “However, after careful consideration of the overall costs of sustaining the program and the small number of interested individuals, a majority of the court determined that the LLLT program is not an effective way to meet these needs and voted to sunset the program.”
The first LLLTs were licensed in 2015; however, there are less than 40 active technicians. The Washington State Bar also reported in May 2020 that the direct and indirect costs for administering the licensing program had exceeded revenues by nearly $1.4 million. The Board of the State Bar also asked the Court in May 2020 to consider the possible sunsetting of the program, and the Court’s order approving the LLLT program had stated an expectation it would be self-sustaining.
A business plan submitted to the Court by the LLLT Board indicated the program could potentially generate enough revenue to cover the Bar’s direct expenses for administering the program by 2022 and cover all costs by 2029. That plan was contingent on the Court approving new practice areas to include in the program (which was contemplated when the program was created) and reducing some of the requirements to become a LLLT. The Chief Justice’s letter stated that the LLLT board’s proposed practice areas expansion and rules revisions were not approved by the Court.
In a written dissent, Justice Madsen called the financial criticism of the LLLT program “hollow” and said that the Court’s decision will result in the “elimination of an independent legal license.” She also stated that this had occurred without “a single meeting, without question or comment from LLLT license holders, legal practitioners, or the public at large,” “What took over a decade of toil to create, this court erased in an afternoon.” “In no other professional area would a regulated license be so summarily erased with so little thought given to those who will be most affected.”
The Chief Justice’s June 5 letter states that:
Current legal technicians in good standing may continue to be licensed and may continue to provide services. Individuals already in the pipeline as of June 4, 2020, who can complete all the requirements to be licensed as a LLLT by July 31, 2021, may do so. No new LLLTs will be admitted after that date.
Bottom line: This decision by the Washington Supreme Court is somewhat surprising, particularly since other states have now implemented (or are considering implementation of) non-lawyer limited practice programs, including Florida. It appears that the lack of interest (only 40 participants) and the $1.4 million deficit were the primary reasons for the Court’s decision to eliminate the program.
Stay safe and healthy and be careful out there.
Disclaimer: this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
2999 Alt. 19, Suite A
Palm Harbor, Florida
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670