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Limited licensing programs gain traction in the legal community

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The idea of non-lawyers practicing law sparks howls of protest from attorneys but with a handful of state seriously considering the proposition and a national committee recommending the concept, the push toward limited licenses is gaining momentum.

A primary concern is that individuals with special licensing will take work away from established attorneys and make it more difficult for new lawyers to gain a foothold. This worry, however, is getting overshadowed by the growing problem of more and more people going without legal representative because they cannot afford an attorney.

Littlewood Littlewood

The state of Washington is the first to develop a program to train and license individuals in very narrow areas of the law. California and New York are reviewing limited licenses.

The American Bar Association Task Force on the Future of Legal Education described the increasing attention to limited licensing as a positive development.

Led by retired Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard, the ABA committee is advocating the legal community look for alternatives to the three-year degree program that yields “professional generalists.” The task force recommends law schools develop programs for specialized licenses and that state regulators formulate licensing systems without limiting access or raising the price of legal services.

The experience in Washington shows that the road to limited licenses can be very long. After 10 years of talking – and fighting – about alternative legal practitioners, the Washington Supreme Court adopted the rule in June 2012.

What was considerably easier was convincing the state’s law schools to participate, according to Washington State Bar Association Executive Director Paula Littlewood and Limited License Legal Technician Board Chair Steve Crossland. The three schools in Washington readily collaborated to develop a curriculum of 15 credit hours which couples with a basic core curriculum taught in the community college system.

At the law schools, the limited license curriculum – which will begin in the fall of 2014 – is designed to be a mix of theory and hands-on training. Also, all law professors will be paired with a practicing attorney. Littlewood recalled one professor who quipped that students coming through the specialized license program ould be better trained than the law students.

Crossland Crossland

Once students complete the program, they will be limited license legal technicians. They will be able to file forms and give advice without an attorney’s supervision, but they will not be allowed to represent clients in court or negotiate on behalf of clients. Also the LLLTs will be required to carry malpractice insurance.

Representatives of three law schools in Indiana had differing reactions to limited licensing.

Gary Roberts, dean emeritus at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, said members of the bar would likely “go crazy” at the suggestion of a limited legal license. But he believes alternative licenses will eventually be granted in Indiana.

“It’s coming,” he said. “I think it’s inevitable.”

Notre Dame Law School Associate Dean Mark McKenna thinks law schools would take a hard look at tailoring their curriculums to create a course of study for limited legal practitioners if the state approved such licenses. The South Bend school would probably talk about offering such a program, giving consideration to how a limited license track would fit with the school’s mission and current J.D. program, he said.

Speaking after Shepard made a presentation about legal education at Notre Dame in late September, McKenna was receptive to the idea of limited licenses. He personally considers limited licensing to be a good solution if the practitioners can do their jobs well and they fill a need in the market.

“There are tons of services that are not being adequately provided by lawyers, and I would like to see more lawyers doing those things but at the very least, I would like to see those services being rendered,” McKenna said, pointing to the number of people who go through divorces or do small-business transactions without legal advice because they cannot afford it. “I think that’s something the legal profession has to take more seriously.”

Roberts pointed to the growing need for affordable legal services. Currently, small-business owners as well as lower- and middle-income people are going without legal assistance because the price is too high. When that demand for less expensive services becomes a “ground swell,” he said, a limited license program will be introduced.

The argument that a limited licensed practitioner would not be as good as someone with a full, three-year law school degree was dismissed by Roberts as nonsense. To do a simple divorce or draw up a lease contract, an individual does not need to have taken the full range of courses offered in law schools.

roberts-gary-mug.jpg Roberts

Moreover the lawyers who, on the one hand, say the third year of law school is unnecessary but, on the other hand, contend only someone with a J.D. can perform legal services are talking from both sides of their mouths, Roberts said.

At Indiana Tech Law School, Dean Peter Alexander disputed the contention that practitioners with narrow training can produce legal services that matches the quality of the work done by law school graduates. The ability to analyze and synthesize as necessary to fully serve clients comes only from studying for three years at a law school, he said.

“I think legal education helps to transform people from whatever they are before law school into lawyers,” Alexander said. “Without that transformation, I don’t think you can offer the same level of services to clients.”

The problem of access to justice can be addressed by requiring attorneys to do pro bono work, Alexander said. Holding a law license is a privilege, he continued, so lawyers would have a responsibility to offer a certain numbers of hours each year to handling charity cases.

In October 2013, the Indiana State Bar Association Professional Legal Education, Admission and Development Section issued a report that included a review of special licensing. The section recommended against moving forward with legal technicians at this time but left the door open for future consideration by advising the state bar to monitor the success of such programs in other jurisdictions.

The Washington State Bar Association is overseeing the LLLT program. It established the curriculum, set the rules of professional conduct and created the two bar exams the students will have to take (one at the end of their community college rotation and other after they complete the law school courses).

Also, the state bar association provided seed money of $130,000 to get the program started. Littlewood and Crossland said once students start paying the fees for licensing, the program will become self-sufficient.

In Washington, the motivation for limited licenses came about because many state residents are either going without legal assistance or they are getting harmed by individuals who misrepresent their legal abilities.

Whenever lawyers complained in the past that LLLTs would take clients away, Littlewood reminded them of the number of people going without representation. If attorneys were doing the work, she said, there would not be a problem with access to justice.

Now if a lawyer complains, Littlewood has a short answer that highlights the reality.

“It’s here,” she replies. “The debate is over. The (Supreme) Court has spoken.”•

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  • A good reason for Paralegal Licensing
    One thing this article doesn't mention is that many highly qualified paralegals have the training and experience to perform exactly the types of tasks being considered for LLLTs. The curriculum at the State's accredited paralegal programs could just as easily be tailored to allow paralegals to receive the education, and licensing needed to directly assist with, and perform those specialized tasks - like simple divorces, leases, small claims filings, etc... Paralegals have always been a great solution to the need for low-cost legal services for the under-served in our state - but as with many things in the Hoosier state, we are behind the times.

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  1. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  2. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  3. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

  4. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  5. This article proved very enlightening. Right ahead of sitting the LSAT for the first time, I felt a sense of relief that a score of 141 was admitted to an Indiana Law School and did well under unique circumstances. While my GPA is currently 3.91 I fear standardized testing and hope that I too will get a good enough grade for acceptance here at home. Thanks so much for this informative post.

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