This article was originally published on Above the Law.

As part of my access to justice writing, I have been researching paraprofessional programs in the Pacific Northwest, specifically Washington State’s Limited License Legal Technician (LLLT) and the recommended changes to Oregon’s rules of professional conduct as outlined in the Oregon State Bar’s 2017 Futures Task Force report.  Over the past couple of years, the LLLT has surfaced at various Evolve Law events across the country and I was surprised and intrigued by negativity from lawyers on the topic. Comments that LLLT were taking work away from attorneys sounds like protectionism to me.

Our access to justice gap only seems to widen, and with about 80% of Americans without legal representation, I do not understand the “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) attitude towards paraprofessionals. My goal is to better understand and debunk some of the myths around the LLLT and that research is still in progress. However, recently I stumbled across something in the Model Rules of Professional Conduct (MRPC) that helped me understand why lawyers may seem entitled to a NIMBY view of paraprofessional programs.

The 2017 edition of the MRPC contains this one line as Comment 1 to Rule 1.17: Sale of a Law Practice, “The practice of law is a profession, not merely a business.” The next line in the same MRPC comment states, “clients are not commodities that can be purchased and sold at will.” I do not disagree with the second statement but I am unclear how that client view is unique to a profession versus a business. I do understand that clients can choose to stay with their attorney upon sale of a business, but that is no different than following your doctor, barber, stylist, accountant, or financial planner and so on, as a client or customer.

In the dictionary, profession is defined as, “a principal calling, vocation, or employment” or a “a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation.” The same dictionary defines business as “a usually commercial or mercantile activity engaged in as a means of livelihood…dealings or transactions especially of an economic nature.” Personally, I like the archaic definition of “busyness” which is a purposeful activity. Regardless, I think any difference between profession and business is completely irrelevant to serving clients or customers and providing access to justice.  Our purpose should be to close the access to justice gap by providing services and products that solve clients’ legal problems, using paraprofessionals, technology, and any reasonable means.

As I researched the LLLT, I was surprised by the attorney-supervised hour requirement of 3000 hours or about 18 months of full-time work. LLLTs do not represent clients in court and are limited to consultation, research, drafting, and advice. To provide context, in Arizona, an EMT qualifies with under 30 practical hours and a paramedic is less than 1000 hours. These first-responders go beyond consulting with patients; they are saving lives.  Why so many hours for LLLTs?  As I mentioned above, my research and interviews are not complete but this seems like a prohibitive amount of training time. Also, the required courses do not qualify for student loans which is another barrier for aspiring LLLTs.

Other professions have stringent experience requirements, for example a professional engineer (PE) completes four years of work under a supervisor before they can write the final PE exam. Years ago, I had to article for two years in Canada to qualify as a professional accountant. However, to become an attorney in the U.S., there is no work experience requirement.  I am not advocating change to the existing lawyer qualifications, rather a review of the program experience requirements for LLLTs and any new paraprofessional programs.

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