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Will California Threaten Lawyer Livelihood with Legal Technicians?

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

In the medical field, there are physician assistants and nurse practitioners who can offer limited medical diagnosis and treatment without a medical degree. So why shouldn’t there be a category of legal professionals who can offer legal advice without passing the bar?

Maybe because we already have too many lawyers and too few jobs?

The California State Bar Board of Trustees is mulling the idea of a limited-practice licensing program that would create a new class of professionals who could give legal advice, reports the California Bar Journal.

The plan is that the limited licensing program would provide legal services to clients who couldn't otherwise afford attorneys, and allow law students and others who haven't passed the bar to put their nascent skills to use.

Washington state already has a similar plan in place. Last year, Washington adopted the Limited License Legal Technician (LLLT) Rule, which authorizes non-attorneys who meet certain educational requirements to advise clients on specific areas of law. The specifics are still being hammered out, but the goal is to allow legal technicians to select and complete forms, inform clients of procedures and timelines, review and explain pleadings and identify additional documents that clients may need.

California currently allows non-lawyers to perform some legal tasks that don't constitute the practice of law, such as helping people fill out legal forms, the Journal explains. For instance, paralegals working under the supervision of licensed attorneys, unlawful detainer assistants, legal document assistants, and immigration consultants registered by the county clerks or California's Secretary of State all can assist consumers with legal needs in limited ways, without crossing the legal line into practicing law.

Trustee Dennis Mangers, a member of the Board of Trustees, admits that the proposal may not be popular among lawyers.

(Sidebar: Why in the world would he think that? Just because unemployed law school grads are swimming in debt and taking barista gigs so they can pay to watch other lawyers work?)

For all you California lawyers, the Board of Trustees will discuss the limited-practice licensing program proposal further at its next meeting, March 6-7 in Sacramento. If you care to weigh in before then, the Board's contact information is available here. Or, speak your mind on Facebook or Google+.

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