Office of Bar Counsel, 1021 WYBJ, Vol. 44 No. 5. 10

AuthorMark W. Gifford
PositionVol. 44 5 Pg. 10

Office of Bar Counsel

No. Vol. 44 No. 5 Pg. 10

Wyoming Bar Journal

October, 2021

Fits and Starts: Initiatives to Expand Legal Services by Nonlawyers Travel a Bumpy Road

Mark W. Gifford

As fewer and fewer consumers of legal services are able to afford a lawyer, those in need of legal assistance look elsewhere or go it alone. This virtual death spiral imposes additional burdens on an already-clogged justice system and carries the potential for significant, perhaps irreparable harm to the unrepresented or self-represented consumer.

A number of jurisdictions across the country have tried innovative approaches to bridging the gap between consumer needs and the ability of the legal system to deliver. Several are showing early signs of promise. However, the earliest experiment in regulatory innovation to expand the availability of legal services to those in need was scrapped in 2020 after just five years of little progress. Tough regulatory reform efforts are still in their infancy, there is something to be learned from the failure of Washington’s initiative to authorize and regulate Limited License Legal Technicians (LLLTs), as contrasted with the early success of the Utah Office of Legal Services Innovation’s Sandbox.

Washington’s Failed LLLT Program

In 2012, Washington pioneered the adoption of regulatory reform measures to expand access to legal services by allowing LLLTs who satisfied stringent licensure requirements to practice within family law. The initiative’s launch met with a predictable chorus of jeers and catcalls from lawyers who foresaw the problems that would be experienced by clients receiving substandard legal assistance.

LLLTs were required to complete a specified family law curriculum and have 3,000 hours of practical legal experience. The first LLLTs were granted licenses in 2015 and were recognized as members of the Washington State Bar Association. So far, so good.

But the fledgling program didn’t gain traction. Few applicants sought licensure. In an effort to shore up the initiative, a LLLT board proposed expanding the areas of law LLLTs could practice to include elder care, health law, administrative law, eviction and debt assistance. All such efforts were rejected by the Washington Supreme Court.

By 2020, just 45 LLLT licenses had been awarded, only 39 of which identified as active. By then, the bar’s elected leadership had turned over and the...

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