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After 15 months of training paralegal specialists, Washington's experiment produced a little more than a dozen "Limited License Legal Technicians." Not exactly a booming field, but at least it didn't blow up.
The State Supreme Court and the State Bar Association started the program to provide legal services to people who could not afford a lawyer but needed more than paralegals could provide traditionally. Unlike paralegals who work in law firms, the LLLTs were trained to provide services directly to clients without attorney supervision.
According to a new report, the limited legal technician program is a limited success. It serves an important purpose, but needs more paralegals and money.
"Significant Economic Deterrent"
The report said the program is not self-sustaining because of low enrollment and regulatory costs. The program cost $473 ,405 to start, while collecting only $11,188 in fees, requiring a substantial subsidy from the State Bar.
Also, the program has licensed only 15 people so far and limited financial aid was a "significant economic deterrent to prospective students."
"As noted in the LLLT Board's report to the Supreme Court, the typical cost of all education required to become certified is $14,400," wrote Thomas M. Clarke and Rebecca L. Sandefur for the American Bar Foundation, the National Center for State Courts and the Public Welfare Foundation.
Part of the financial problem is that law schools, which provide training under the program, cannot afford to subsidize it. A solution, the study proposes, is to shift instruction to community colleges.
An Historic Path
"Teaching the practice area classes at community colleges using remote law professors, community college professors, or adjunct faculty would be one way to mitigate the possible bottleneck at the law school," the study suggested.
Despite the challenges, the legal technicians are well trained for the work. They have to receive an associate level degree with 45 credits defined by the program, plus 15 credits in "core education," such as family law; work 3,000 hours under lawyer supervision; and pass three exams to become certified.
The American Bar Association, which first reported on the training as an "historic path," said it is successfully providing services despite "kinks in the program." The ABA Journal said it is the only state in the country offering the specialized certification for paralegals.
"LLLTs help fill out forms and explain legal procedures to clients," the Journal said. "They may not represent their clients in court or in negotiations with opposing parties."