Law Degree No Longer a Prerequisite for Practicing Some Kinds of Law in Washington State
Washington state’s new “limited license legal technician” program was profiled last Friday in a Washington Post piece that posed the question, “Who says you need a law degree to practice law?”
The article called the program an “ambitious experiment to revolutionize access to legal services, particularly among the poor.” Participants in the program take a year-long class at a community college, followed by a licensing exam. If they pass, they must then apprentice under an attorney for 3,000 hours. After that, they are free to open an office, set their own fees and provide limited legal services to all takers.
The LLLT program is modeled after the medical profession’s nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants, who can see patients and write prescriptions just like doctors do. In 2012, the Washington Supreme Court adopted a rule that allowed for the LLLT program. The court appointed a board that worked with state law schools to determine the curriculum covering civil procedure, contracts, research and family law. The first class of 15 graduated late last year.
The total cost of the program is approximately $10,000. Washington limits the practice area for LLLTs to family law right now, but that will eventually be expanded. LLLTs cannot represent clients in court.
According to the article, California, Oregon, Colorado and New Mexico are considering emulating the Washington state program in order to provide more affordable access to legal services to low- and middle-income residents.
Washington’s LLLT program was vigorously opposed by the Washington State Bar, which argued that the training licensed attorneys receive is necessary to ensure competency in handling legal matters and protecting the best interests of clients.