Millions of poor and middle-class Californians cannot afford the legal help they need for such basics as estate planning or probate matters. Even people who qualify for legal aid may be unable to find nonprofit providers to help them. One way to close this “justice gap” is to create a new class of legal providers.
Washington state pioneered the use of limited license legal technicians (LLLTs) in 2012. These professionals are trained and licensed to render limited legal assistance. Thus, they can practice law to a limited scope in limited areas.
It might seem like LLLTs would be a threat to lawyers, but it was actually a task force formed by the California State Bar that proposed developing a pilot program for LLLTs in March 2015. The task force studied the issue for about a year before announcing their recommendation.
LLLTs differ from paralegals in that they can give limited legal advice to clients. Paralegals are prohibited from doing this, and are restricted from working directly with clients. All of their work is subject to review by a lawyer.
While many people seek help from legal assistants, these professionals are prohibited from helping clients the way a limited license legal technician could. In Washington, LLLTs can provide independent legal analysis and explain the relevance of facts to a client.
The next step to bring this about in California is for the California State Bar to work with the state’s Supreme Court of design a pilot program. It is yet to be determined how governance, oversight, and licensing will be handled.
If California does follow through with a limited license legal technician program, it will be a tremendous help to a large number of the state’s citizens while also providing new career options for paralegals.