APR 28: Promoting Affordable & Accessible Legal Services

Post by:  Travis Stadler, HJP Summer Extern

The Washington Supreme Court recently approved APR 28 which creates a new category of non-attorney legal service providers. The decision to implement the rule was, in part, based on the 2003 Civil Legal Needs Study which established that our civil legal system is both complex and unaffordable to many low income and moderate income people. The Limited Practice Rule seeks to address this issue by authorizing certain qualified persons to “engage in discrete legal and related activities.”

The rule does not itself authorize anyone to practice; rather, it “establishes the regulatory framework for the consideration of proposals to allow non-attorneys to practice.” The rule is intended to expand the affordability of legal aid by helping the public with relatively simple legal manners such as “completing forms, informing clients of applicable procedures and timelines, reviewing and explaining pleadings, identifying additional documents that may be needed, etc.” Among other things, the rule also requires that the limited license legal technicians meet specific educational requirements, pass a certification examination, and have a period of supervised practice.

There has been opposition to the rule. Justice Owens filed a dissent to the order citing the financial obligation the rule would impose on members of the Washington State Bar Association. Specifically, Justice Owens believes the Court has imposed a tax on the lawyers of the State of Washington. Although Justice Owens believes it is possible for the program to become self-sufficient in the future, she believes that much of the start-up costs for the program will be borne by the current members of the bar.

Although Justice Owens’ concerns are certainly cognizable, it is clear that greater access to the legal system is necessary. Access to attorneys would obviously help to improve the situation, but many low-income individuals cannot afford the services of an attorney and are forced to navigate the legal system on their own. Most of the problems encountered relate to basic needs such as housing, shelter and security, family, and consumer abuses. When forced to face these issues on their own, they often walk away from the experience dissatisfied with the justice system. It seems clear that providing greater and more meaningful access to the justice system via Limited Legal License Legal Technicians is a step in the right direction.

What is your new opinion on the rule? Do you think APR 28 will actually achieve the goal imagined or fall short? What about Justice Owens’ concerns about taxing the current bar association? Want to know more?  Read the full text of the rule here.

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