LLLTs: making legal help more affordable in family law cases

| Apr 27, 2016 | divorce

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” said a character in Shakespeare’s Henry VI.

It’s a famous but usually misinterpreted line. The misinterpretation is in taking the line anything close to literally. In the context of the play, what the line is really expressing is a fear of the anarchy that would ensue in a world without lawyers.

As important as lawyers’ work is, however, there is an increasing recognition that hiring a lawyer is expensive. The legal profession is trying to respond to this problem. Here in Washington, we are leading the way in one aspect of this: allowing people to keep costs down in family law cases by working with a limited license legal technician (LLLT) rather than a fully licensed lawyer.

Washington’s new program

Washington began its LLLT program in June of 2015 after revising its rules on admission to law practice. So far the program is only available in family law cases. It is an attempt, however, to make legal services more accessible to people of modest means.

The role that LLTs play is similar to the role that nurse practitioners play in the medical field. Nurse practitioners can do many basic things that doctors do, at much less cost. The goal is to have LLLTs similarly do many of the basic things that lawyers do at much less cost.

What sorts of things would those be?

LLLTs can inform clients about the legal process and point the way forward. They can also do basic research and draft documents. These services can help clients who would otherwise try to do it themselves find effective ways to resolve issues and navigate the legal system.

To be sure, there are certain things that LLLTs aren’t allowed to do. These include going to court and negotiating with the other party. LLTs also do not handle complicated issues such QDROs. (QDROs are qualified domestic relations orders, a procedure for diving retirement accounts in divorce cases.)

Getting the help you need to move forward

Using an LLLT may very well be a good fit for your divorce or child custody case. It can enable you to move forward with your case with guidance from a professional. But you can do this without having to break the bank paying for a lawyer to do everything.

The very first LLLT in the state was Michelle Lynn-Moore Cummings of Fiori Law Offices in Auburn. Cummings is a paralegal whose supervising attorney encouraged her to become a legal tech so that the Fiori firm could reach out in new ways to previously underserved clients.

Even today, nearly a year after the program began, Fiori Law offices is one of the few firms in the state that an LLLT.

Of course, whether you choose to use a lawyer, an LLLT or DIY (do it yourself) depends a lot on your particular situation. Keep in mind, however, that a DIY approach to divorce or child custody issues can easily get bogged down or go off track.

If costs are a concern, using a legal tech may therefore be the way to go. And at the very least, it is good to know you have options.