Washington lawyers are trying to get the word out about a new type of legal license that has begun to give non-lawyers the ability to practice certain types of law in this state.
If you’re looking for a lawyer, or if you’re a student considering a career in the law, the Washington State Bar Association wants you to know about a new field that can save you money in legal fees — or college tuition.
Authorized by the state Supreme Court several years ago, the field is called Limited License Legal Technicians — LLLTs — or simply legal technicians. They are the only legal professionals, other than lawyers, who are licensed to give legal advice and own law firms in Washington.
Washington is the first state in the country to offer this option for legal services.
Steve Crossland, an attorney in Cashmere, Chelan County, and past president of the Washington State Bar Association, says the creation of legal technicians was born out of a concern that people wouldn’t be able to get access to legal advice because the number of practicing attorneys is shrinking. It’s a problem that will get worse in the years to come.
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“I’m a baby boomer, and my age group constitutes half the bar — and we’re retiring,” Crossland said. At the same time, “people aren’t going to law school in the numbers that are going to replace us. The crisis is upon us — and it’s going to get bigger.”
A legal technician has more training than a paralegal, and those who take the courses and pass a final exam can practice law on their own without working under the supervision of an attorney, said Sara Niegowski, chief communications and outreach officer for the Washington State Bar Association. Currently, legal technicians are licensed to practice only family law (such as drawing up divorce papers), but more specialties are on their way.
They charge significantly less than an attorney, but they still make good money — about $60 to $120 an hour, Niegowski said. So far, about 30 people have been certified statewide.
To become a legal technician, a student needs to earn an associate degree at a community college that offers paralegal training, then take an additional year of training via live webcast, which is offered by the University of Washington’s Continuing Education Program. That yearlong course costs $3,750. Finally, the student must pass several exams in order to earn the license.
That’s three years of training, which will cost students about $12,000. Earning a law degree typically takes seven years — a bachelor’s degree followed by a law degree — and three years of law school at the University of Washington currently costs about $100,000 for in-state residents.
Five Washington community colleges offer the specific paralegal courses needed for the first step of the program: Highline, Edmonds, Tacoma, Spokane and Whatcom. Across the Oregon border, Portland Community College also offers the coursework.
Priscilla Selden, a legal technician in Wenatchee, was one of the first people in the state to become certified. She had worked for 25 years as a paralegal, and was looking for a career challenge.
One of the best things about being a legal technician, she said, is translating the legal system for clients. “I love dealing with people, being the front person,” she said.
Selden also works with a Wenatchee-area program that offers free legal advice to residents. She spends about two hours with each client, and she’s able to draw up the legal paperwork they need for their cases. “Every single client I’ve dealt with, across the board, has been really appreciative,” she said.
Selden said being a legal technician is a demanding job. “You have to be someone who enjoys or thrives on stress,” she said. “I like that. I’m like a border collie. Sitting in an office job and being bored? I can’t even take one day of that.”
To find a list of LLLTs working in the state, go to https://www.mywsba.org/LegalDirectory.aspx, choose “Limited License Legal Technician” in the drop-down box for “License Type” and click on “Search.”
For more information on a career as a legal technician, go to the state Bar’s web page on LLLTs: https://www.wsba.org/for-legal-professionals/join-the-legal-profession-in-wa/limited-license-legal-technicians/become-a-legal-technician.
CORRECTION: This post has been corrected to include Tacoma Community College as one of the schools that offer paralegal courses, and to delete Wenatchee Community College, which does not offer them.