The Washington State Limited License Legal Technician Practice Rule: A National First in Access to Justice
57 Pages Posted: 5 Jan 2013 Last revised: 26 Nov 2014
Date Written: January 4, 2013
For years the judiciary, bar associations, academics, and other observers have decried the lack of access to justice for poor and low-income individuals. Focusing often on civil areas of legal need, such as family law and housing law, the access to justice movement has proposed a range of reforms to close the 'justice gap.' Yet these proposals, while helpful and productive, have not eliminated or adequately mitigated the access to justice crisis. Additional measures remain necessary. In 2012, the Washington State Supreme Court responded to this access to justice crisis with a unique and controversial measure: a limited license practice rule permitting non-lawyers to practice law. The Supreme Court termed these non-lawyers 'legal technicians,' who are permitted to practice only in certain well-defined areas. Much work remains to be done to implement this new practice rule, and skepticism persists. But in the near future, non-lawyers in Washington State may add substantially to the legal services available to poor and low-income persons. The question becomes whether this new limited license practice rule will prove effective and serve as an access to justice model for other states to follow. This article thus analyzes and assesses Washington State’s new Legal Technician Rule in the detailed manner warranted of such a novel and untested access to justice program.
This paper will be included in the University of Mississippi Law Journal's February 2013 symposium on poverty and access to justice.
Keywords: access to justice, legal ethics, professional responsibility
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