Justice Madsen Authors Dissent In Response To Supreme Court Sun Setting of the LLLT Program
The Washington Supreme Court's decision to "sunset" the newly established LLLT licensing program has come under fire from Justice Madsen. She laments the lack of process and transparency involved in the termination of LLLT legal license, unique to Washington State.
In her four-page dissent that I include at the end of this post, she takes her colleagues to task for engaging in an abbreviated process to end a program, that as she writes, "[D]id not spring fully formed from the head of Zeus." And indeed, it did not arrive at us from some ethereal plane of existence but was crafted through a thoughtful and intellectually laborious process that involved the participation of all stakeholders. The sunset pronouncement was more of Star Chamber affair, with no buy-in from stakeholders--at least none was acknowledged to any degree in the letter that put an end to the program.
The Court asserted that a lack of interest and the program's costs caused them to determine that it should not continue; those of us working in the industry know better. This program has serious flaws. It allowed someone to gain licensure as an LLLT who would then serve the public by providing family law legal assistance without requiring that applicant to complete one of their 3,000 required practice hours for the benefit of a family law client. This allowed someone who went through the LLLT program to work under the guidance and supervision of a bankruptcy attorney while completing the requisite number of hours they needed to gain licensure and then be cleared to provide family law assistance to the public, without them ever having worked with a family law client. The fact that this loophole, big enough to drive a truck through, cleared the planning stages, and was then cemented as part of the APR 28(B)(4) order establishing the right of an LLLT to practice, is mind-blowing.
While Madsen rightly questions the brevity of the process that ended the LLLT program, she does not address or invite meaningful interrogation of the problems with the model she champions. More than a few LLLT candidates were completing the rigors of the training established by all the input, and then providing substandard legal help to clients. But throwing the baby-out-with-the-bath-water seems a step too far. A retooling of the program could address flaws, while still protecting the interest in providing low-cost access to legal help from qualified LLLT providers.
Lousy legal practitioners exist across the spectrum of legal practices operating under any license. Each publication of the Washington State Bar News has a special section for "discipline and other regulatory notices," which we all turn to first (If we're honest). A few bad apples shouldn't end a program, and taking action to reserve exclusivity for traditional, licensed practitioners, shouldn't push more reasoned efforts to the margins, or out the window.
See the following link for a great article addressing limited licensure in the legal context