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Supreme Court of Montana

October 11, 2017

Access to Justice Commission Order of April 11, 2017

         ACCESS TO JUSTICE COMMISSION ORDER Working Group Limited Licensed Legal Technician (LLLT) Report to the Court


         On April 11, 2017, in response to a Petition filed by the State Bar of Montana, Paralegal Section and the Access to Justice Commission, the Montana Supreme Court issued an Order (Order) appointing a working group (Working Group) to "explore an alternate legal service model currently in use in the State of Washington, Limited License Legal Technicians (LLLTs)." As support for its Order, the Court cited its mission to increase access to justice and the multiple challenges presented by self-represented litigants and litigants of modest means. The Working Group was directed to conduct meetings to explore the LLLT legal service model and report to the Court within 6 months of the date of the Order.

         In accordance with the Order, the Working Group appointed to study the LLLT model was comprised of Chairperson Patricia Cotter, and the following representatives of the respective entities designated to participate in the Working Group: Shanni Barry for the Paralegal Section of the State Bar of Montana, Jason Holden for the State Bar of Montana, Georgette Boggio for the Access to Justice Commission, Melissa Fisher for Montana Legal Services Association, Professor Deborah Kottel for the University of Great Falls, and Professor Larry Howell for the Alexander Blewett III School of Law, University of Montana. The meetings were staffed by Chris Manos, Executive Director of the State Bar, and Metta Hallinan of the State Bar, who took minutes of the meetings. Also participating were Ann Goldes-Sheahan, Equal Justice Coordinator for the State Bar, and Patty Fain, Statewide Pro Bono Coordinator.

         The Working Group conducted four three-hour meetings attended in person and/or by telephonic conference by members over a period of four months, commencing on May 22, 2017. Three of the meetings took place at the offices of the State Bar, and the fourth meeting took place at the Alexander Blewett III School of Law. In addition to the monthly meetings, the Chair met with Hon. Jeffrey Sherlock on June 8, 2017, and with the Lewis & Clark County District Judges together with representatives of the 1st Judicial District Pro Bono Committee on July 18, 2017, as further explained below.


         The Washington LLLT license model was proposed by the Washington State Bar Association to address the unmet civil legal needs of the state's low-income persons and households. The Washington Supreme Court adopted a new rule of Admission and Practice in September 2012 (Rule 28) and created an LLLT Board to oversee the LLLT program. At the Working Group's July meeting, the Executive Director of the Washington State Bar, Paula Littlewood, and the Chairman of the Washington LLLT Commission, Steve Crossland, made a presentation explaining the program.

         Initially, the focus of the LLLT program was on family law, with a view toward expanding the program to include immigration, estate planning and landlord/tenant law. The goal is to build on the capabilities of traditional paralegals who upon meeting the LLLT educational and testing requirements, could assist low income persons and operate without lawyer supervision. LLLTs primarily help customers fill out legal forms and understand legal procedures.

         Candidates for an LLLT license in Washington must attain an associate level degree earning the 45 credits required under the state's formalized LLLT regulations. These courses are to be completed in an ABA-approved paralegal program. Upon completion of this "core education" component, candidates must then complete 15 credits in family law (or other area of the law approved for LLLT practice by the LLLT Board) through a curriculum developed by an ABA-approved law school. These courses are currently offered through the University of Washington School of Law. Concurrent with their education, candidates must spend 3, 000 hours (this may be reduced to 2, 000 hours by a prospective rule change) working under the supervision of a licensed attorney. Candidates must pass three exams: one at the completion of the core education, another on the LLLT Rules of Professional Conduct, and the third being a subject area exam. Some waivers are permitted for existing paralegals who have spent at least 10 years performing substantive legal work under lawyer supervision and have current national paralegal certification.

         Upon completion of the 2-year LLLT educational program, admission is managed by the Washington State Bar in a process similar to that utilized for admitting new lawyers, including character and fitness review and examination. Upon passage, LLLTs are licensed subject to their own Rules of Professional Conduct, malpractice insurance requirements, CLE requirements, and annual license fee renewal. Under the LLLT Rules of Conduct, LLLTs are barred from representing clients in negotiations with lawyers or other parties, and are precluded from going into court with their clients. However, the LLLT Board is exploring possible rule changes to allow LLLTs to appear in court in a limited fashion and to allow LLLTs to negotiate on behalf of clients within appropriate limitations.

         According to the presenters to the Working Group, the focus of the Washington LLLT Board is on affordability of tuition costs, accessibility of an education through community colleges throughout the state (of which there are 29 in Washington), and academically rigorous educational requirements. At present, the cost of an LLLT education and the testing and admission process in Washington is approximately $15, 000.

         In a Preliminary Evaluation of the Washington State LLLT Program dated March of 2017 (NCSC Evaluation), Thomas Clarke of the National Center for State Courts and Rebecca Sandefur of the American Bar Foundation observed that, while the stated objective of the LLLT program is to increase access to justice for low and moderate-income persons, this broad objective could not be accomplished right away and must instead be pursued incrementally. As of July, 2017, there were 20-21 LLLTs practicing in the State of Washington. 10 practiced in law firms, 10 owned independent firms, and one worked for a legal services provider. Of these, all but 2 practiced in urban areas, and only 2 practiced in eastern Washington. Rates charged by LLLTs were $75-100 per hour, with some charging by the task rather than hourly.

         The NCSC Evaluation recognized that LLLTs must discover and attract sufficient numbers of clients and revenue to make an operational profit and provide a livable income while satisfying school debt obligations. As of March 2017, most of Washington's LLLTs were not practicing full-time. It was observed that only a couple of the currently licensed LLLTs are making a living solely as LLLTs, with the balance using mixed business models and working to a significant degree as traditional paralegals for law firms to ensure sufficient incomes. Of course, the Washington program does not impose any requirement that an LLLT work solely for low to moderate-income clients.

         The NCSC Evaluation also addressed the economic sustainability of the program from a regulatory and educational perspective, noting that both components required significant subsidies to operate at current and/or increased volumes. Though it recognizes some issues with economic sustainability, Washington intends to continue and possibly broaden the LLLT program by adding available degrees in specialties ...

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