You could call Michelle Cummings a pioneer. The Bonney Lake woman is the first person in Washington to be licensed as a limited-license legal technician. So far, Washington is only state that allows non-lawyers to give legal advice.Obtained License A Year Ago
Cummings, who works out of the Fiori Law Offices in Auburn, Washington, was a paralegal for more than a decade. She spent two years taking classes to become a “triple L.T.,” as it’s referred to. Cummings received her license in June of 2015.
The Washington State Supreme Court created the limited-license legal technician program to allow non-lawyers who obtain the proper certification to provide limited legal advice. Initially, the triple L.T.s are just allowed to work in the area of family and domestic relations law.
“I can help you do child support orders. If you have a paternity action, I can help you with a paternity action,” Cummings said.
She can also do some divorces.
Access To Justice Goal Of Washington Supreme Court
What Cummings cannot do is go to court or meet with opposing counsel. But, she can help people who are representing themselves in court get their paperwork in order. She says when she worked as a paralegal, she was often frustrated by what she couldn’t do. For example, telling them how the typed documents had to be formatted.
“I couldn’t even tell them that their margins were off or tell them that they had to file a document by a certain date,” Cummings said.
Now, as a triple L.T. she can give clients that sort of advice.
This new legal license was created because the courts wanted to help the large number of people who can’t afford an attorney get some legal help. The Washington State Bar Association estimates that, each year, 1.6 million people in the state are navigating the court system on their own.
Members Of State Bar Resisted, But Now Advocate For Triple L.T.s
Still, Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) President Steve Crossland says, initially, a lot of his members were skeptical of the new legal technician program.
“It’s a new thing and people were concerned about the quality of the services the triple L.T.s would provide and by the competition,” Crossland said.
But, he says now more lawyers in the state are seeing the triple L.T.s as an addition to the legal profession rather than as competition. Paula Littlewood, WSBA Executive Director, says there’s even a push to expand the triple L.T.’s scope beyond family law.
“We have people coming to us saying, ‘Have you thought about it in this area? What about this idea?’” Littlewood said.
Following Lead Of Medical Profession
Proponents say what’s happening mirrors changes that took place decades ago in the medical profession.
For Michelle Cummings it’s about time.
“To say that you have to keep something exactly the same way, we’ve got to evolve,” she said.
Including Cummings, there are now 12 limited-license legal-technicians working in Washington, with more expected to graduate into the workforce this June.