Update – April 2017
In December 2016 the Washington Supreme Court published Proposed Amendments to nonlawyers’ provision of legal services opening for Comments (among others). The comment period closes April 30, 2017. Any changes adopted would be effective no earlier than September 2017. See proposed changes here: http://www.courts.wa.gov/court_rules/?fa=court_rules.proposedDetails&proposedId=1101
The Washington state supreme court has adopted two rules allowing nonlawyers to provide legal services. Under Admission to Practice Rule 12 (APR) Limited Practice Officers (LPOs) may select and complete forms approved by the Limited Practice Board in real estate and personal property transactions. In addition, APR 28 authorizes representation of clients in approved practice areas by Limited License Legal Technicians (LLLTs), nonattorneys who meet certain educational and experience requirements. The initial area of practice approved for LLLTs is family law but it is contemplated that the program will expand to other areas where there is an unmet need for legal services.
Washington Supreme Court authorizes limited license legal technicians to have minority ownership interests in law firms. In 2012 the Washington Supreme Court took a revolutionary step in the regulation of the practice of law by authorizing limited license legal technicians to (LLLTs) to practice law in certain designated areas. The first area designated for licensing is family law, with the first licenses expected to be issued this spring. In its most recent move, the Court has amended the rules of professional conduct to allow LLLTs to have minority ownership in law firms. Washington now becomes the second jurisdiction, joining the District of Columbia, that allows nonlawyers to have ownership interests in law firms, although the DC and Washington rules are quite different. Many commentators believe that the Washington rule is the first step toward allowing alternative business structures (ABS) in Washington. Australia and the UK already authorize such forms of organization. If an LLLT in family law is allowed to have an ownership interest in a law firm, what is the argument against having ownership interests by CPAs, nonlawyer lobbyists, engineers, etc.?
For information about LLLTs in Washington see http://www.wsba.org/Licensing-and-Lawyer-Conduct/Limited-Licenses.