Paralegals, along with other legal professionals, in the United States have been watching the Limited License Legal Technician (LLLT) program. I have been meaning to interview a paralegal from Washington state that became a LLLT for PRTW. The LLLT program itself has been mentioned quite a few times as an answer to the "What do you think will change in the paralegal profession in the United States in the next five years?" on the blog.
Jen Petersen, RP, is a paralegal in civil litigation and a limited license legal technician in family law at Shepherd and Abbott shares with PRTW readers about the LLLT program in Washington state.
She is an active member of the Washington Association for Justice – Eagle Legal Staff Section (WSAJ), Washington State Paralegal Association (WPSA), and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA).
PRTW: Please explain what the LLLT program is, and how the program came about in Washington state.
JP: The LLLT program is a pioneering legal services program in the state of Washington, which allows non-lawyers to engage in the limited practice of law in specific practice areas; family law is currently the only approved practice area. The program was developed in response to a 2003 Civil Legal Needs Study, commissioned by the Washington Supreme Court, which established that the civil legal needs of the public are not being met in Washington State.
PRTW: In Washington state, what duties can LLLTs perform that paralegals cannot?
JP: There are a number of things an LLLT can do that a paralegal cannot. The most significant distinction is that an LLLT is not required to perform work under the supervision of a licensed attorney, as is required of a paralegal under GR 24.APR 28(B) defines a LLLT as:
(4) “Limited License Legal Technician” (LLLT) means a person qualified by education, training and work experience who is authorized to engage in the limited practice of law in approved practice areas of law as specified by this rule and related regulations. The legal technician does not represent the client in court proceedings or negotiations, but provides limited legal assistance as set forth in this rule to a pro se client.
APR 28(B) defines a paralegal/legal assistant as:
(5) “Paralegal/legal assistant” means a person qualified by education, training, or work experience; who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency, or other entity; and who performs specifically delegated substantive law-related work for which a lawyer is responsible.
PRTW: A concern of some people in the legal industry is that an LLLT will take away duties from attorneys and other legal professionals. What are your thoughts on this issue?
JP: I do not feel that the Washington LLLT program will take away duties from attorneys. I do not know what “other legal professionals” might be impacted since, prior to the LLLT program, no one other than an attorney (and his/her supervised staff) is permitted to provide legal services. Court Facilitators and Pro/Low-bono legal clinics are limited in the services they are permitted and/or able to provide and cannot presently meet the demand. The LLLT program was developed in an attempt to meet unmet civil legal needs in our state. The 2003 legal needs Study revealed that, in Washington, more than 80% of individuals of low to moderate income with a non-criminal legal issue went without legal assistance because they could not afford assistance or did not know how to get assistance.
PRTW: How does one become an LLLT in Washington State? Does one have to be a practicing paralegal before becoming an LLLT?
JP: Yes, before a LLLT can be licensed he/she must complete 3,000 hours of paralegal experience involving substantive legal work under the supervision of an attorney. The experience must be acquired no more than three (3) years prior to licensure and no more than three (3) years after passing the LLLT exam. Also, the supervising attorney(s) must provide a signed declaration certifying that the work meets the definition of substantive legal work experience, which is defined as “work that requires knowledge of legal concepts and is customarily, but not necessarily, performed by a lawyer.”
In addition, one must:
- Be at least 18 years of age.
- Be of good moral character.
- Have associate's degree or higher.
- Complete 45 credit hours of core curriculum through an American Bar Association-approved legal program (unless applying under the limited time waiver – see below).
- Complete applicable practice area courses at the University of Washington School of Law. Currently family law is the only approved practice area.
Take and pass a Core Curriculum Examination, which is a national certifying paralegal examination approved by the LLLT Board (i.e. NFPA’s PCCE).
Take and pass the Legal Technician Exam.
Fulfill other licensing requirements, such as completion of the practice area application and submission of an FBI fingerprint card for a criminal background check.
APR 28 Regulation 4, Limited Time Waivers, allows another path for LLLT applicants for a limited time (applications filed before December 31, 2016) who do not meet the minimum associate-level degree requirement and/or the core curriculum education requirement, if an applicant has:
1. Passed a Board approved national paralegal certification examination;
2. Possesses active certification from a Board approved national paralegal certification organization; and
3. Completed ten (10) years of substantive law-related experience supervised by a licensed attorney with the fifteen (15) years preceding the application for the waiver.
PRTW: What tips can you share with other individuals interested in the program within Washington state?
JP: Know your practice area. I personally feel that the required 3,000 hours of substantive legal work should be a bare minimum one possesses before contemplating working without the guidance of an attorney. I would definitely advise others to obtain the bulk of those hours in their chosen practice area. The classes provide the legal education required but one cannot learn the intricacies of a particular area of practice by any other means than hands on experience.
I would further advise others to develop a strong peer network including licensed attorneys, other LLLTs, GALs, court personnel, etc. These contacts can provide invaluable insight, assistance and, if nothing else, an ear when you are struggling with an issue or client.
Finally, get involved. Being involved through legal associations, legal listservs, pro/low-bono legal community service organizations, etc., will provide valuable information you may otherwise never discover on your own and will enhance the services you are able to provide to your clients.
PRTW: What made you choose to become an LLLT?
JP: My compassion for individuals trying to navigate our complex family law system on their own has driven me to take part in this new licensure opportunity. Going through my own divorce in my early 20’s, I discovered even with my paralegal education and training, I was unable to go through the process without hiring an attorney. I was fortunate to have the financial assistance of my parents, otherwise, I would have been unable to afford the help I needed.
PRTW: Tell us about someone who has influenced your decision to become a paralegal.
JP: There was no one particular person who motivated me to become a paralegal before I obtained my paralegal degree and began working. However, there have been many clients who have inspired me and reinforced my career choice over the past 16 years. These clients have driven me to strive to be the best paralegal I can be and influenced my decision to become an LLLT.
PRTW: Every legal professional is keenly watching the LLLT program in Washington state. Do you have any advice for paralegals or paralegal associations across the United States that have interest in a similar program?
JP: Find out what case population is most underserved in your state. The Washington Civil Legal Needs studies are accessible online and are incredibly informative. Find out if your State commissions similar studies.
Reach out to Washington LLLTs and find out what we are doing, what we successes we’ve experienced in this new practice area, and what walls we, in the trenches, are running into.
Be open to change and this new concept. LLLTs will not take business away from lawyers, hopefully LLLTs will only enhance the legal services available, much like nurse practitioners and physician's assistants have done for the medical community.
PRTW: There are many avenues for becoming a paralegal. Can you tell us about your journey to becoming a paralegal?
JP: I attended Whatcom Community College and received my Associate’s Degree in Science – Paralegal Studies, in 1997. In 2014, I took and passed the National Federation of Paralegal Associations’ Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE) and earned the designation of the Registered Paralegal (RP).
PRTW: Please share with us how you became an LLLT.
JP: My first full-time paralegal job was for a family law attorney. I worked with that attorney, and two associates, from 2000 until she retired in 2010. During this time, the results of a 2003 Civil Legal Needs Study revealed that civil legal needs were grossly under met in Washington, and I began to hear talk about the concept of the LLLT program. I was very interested, having considered but rejected the idea of going back to school to become an attorney. I followed the progress of the development of the license closely.
As soon as the prerequisite requirements were posted, I began working through the application process. I had an additional hurdle because my paralegal degree was not from an ABA-approved school. Fortunately, I had opportunity to apply to the LLLT program under the limited time waiver, once I successfully passed the NFPA’s PACE, since I had 10 years of substantive law-related experience supervised by an attorney who was willing to attest to my work history. In June 2014, I passed the PACE after studying intensely for 9 months. I submitted my waiver application and was approved in July 2014, which allowed me to enroll in the fall 2014 LLLT program at University of Washington School of Law.
My class was the 2nd cohort to go through the program. I graduated from the program in June 2015, and spent my summer studying to take the 2nd offered LLLT licensing exam on September 14, 2015. Fifteen applicants sat for the exam (1st & 2nd cohort) and 10 passed. Seven of the nine applicants passed the first exam.
PRTW: Why did you choose the paralegal profession?
JP: I have been interested in the legal system since I was little. My younger sister and I would play “law office,” probably because our babysitter watched old black and white re-runs of Perry Mason. I was always fascinated when Della Street (Mason’s legal secretary) would swoop into the courtroom mid-trial with case shattering new information. When I graduated high school, I discovered a paralegal program at my local community college, and enrolled for lack of any other ideas. I cannot imagine another vocation for me after the last 16+ years as a paralegal and now a LLLT.
PRTW: Tell us about someone who has influenced your decision to become a paralegal.
JP: The only people I can think of are fictional - Della Street & Atticus Finch.
PRTW: Tell us about someone who has influenced your decision to become a LLLT.
JP: I’ve been involved as a paralegal for a pro se non-parental custody clinic for over five (5) years. My compassion for individuals trying to navigate our complex family law system on their own has driven me to take part in this new licensure opportunity. I realized when I went through my own divorce in my early 20’s, that even with my educational paralegal background I did not have the knowledge or the skills to go through the divorce process on my own.
PRTW: Paralegals have a variety of career options to specialize in, from patent law to elder law to technology law to criminal law. What is your specialty?
JP: Family law; civil litigation (personal injury, malpractice, commercial); and appeals.
PRTW: Why did you choose this specialty?
JP: I was offered a job working for a family law attorney. As my former employer began moving toward retirement, we started sharing office space with a civil litigation firm. Over time, I transitioned into my current employment with the civil litigation firm. Due to my extensive family law background, attorney interest, and local need, the firm expanded to include family law cases.
PRTW:What other specialities have you worked in, and why did you change specialties?
JP: I have worked on a few criminal matters and dependency cases. I also worked for an attorney who did civil commitment cases regarding sexually violent predators. I was not cut out for any of these areas.
PRTW: What advice would you give someone interested in choosing the paralegal profession?
JP: Go to your local courthouse and sit through several types of motion calendars to see what kind of law might interest you. If you have a pro/low-bono legal clinic in your area, volunteer to see if you like the work. Most importantly, if you are not detail-oriented, a good communicator, and willing to work with strict deadlines, find something else.
PRTW: What do you think will change in the paralegal profession in the United States the next five years? What is the best way for a paralegal to prepare for these changes? With this mind, what changes will you make to continue being a successful paralegal?
JP: In addition to more LLLT opportunities, e-filing/service, courtroom technology, and e-communication. You need to be very computer savvy – not just mobile device savvy. Spelling, grammar, and the ability to concisely convey a written idea in sentences and paragraphs is incredibly important. This appears to be falling by the wayside for the younger “technology native” generation where text-speak has become the prevailing form of communication. As the populations’ mobile device/tablet skills have skyrocketed, basic PC skills are no longer emphasized. Verbal communication skills (including phone skills) also appear to be a thing of the past and something younger hires need to be comfortable with.
As for myself, I will continue to take continuing education courses and seek feedback from clients and other legal professionals that work with me.
PRTW: What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
JP: Find a career that you are passionate about and one that doesn’t feel like it’s just a job. Know what you want in life and spend time pursuing goals instead of dreaming of them.
PRTW: What might someone be surprised to know about you?
JP: When I am not in my legal mind, I am probably in my creative brain working with my hands.
PRTW: Paralegals can be employed in different sectors, such as private or public sectors. What sector are you currently employed in? Do you believe paralegals employed in each of these sectors possess different skillsets? If so, what are they?
JP: I am employed in the private sector. I don’t necessarily believe that we possess different skillsets but more likely different mindsets, especially dependent on the client population we work with.
PRTW: What do you find most challenging about being a paralegal? How do continue to do your best work in light of these challenges?
JP: The variation in the classification of a “paralegal” within the legal profession. There is no clear delineation between a paralegal, legal assistant, legal secretary, and no true education requirement. Many in the older generation of paralegals and attorneys do not seem to feel that having a formal paralegal education, advanced certifications, etc., are necessary or worthwhile, or that one should be paid at a different level based upon education, experience, training, etc. I do not discount on-the-job experience at all, especially given my own waiver situation with the LLLT program. However, I feel formal education and continuing education are very important in our ever-changing legal system. I know from my experience, that the responsibilities and duties of a paralegal from firm to firm vary greatly – from mostly secretarial to substantive legal work (i.e. drafting pleadings, demand packages, preparing discovery, etc.).
I am fortunate to work for a firm that values education and utilizes the paralegals’ educations, backgrounds, skills, and training. My salary reflects my hard work to further my education, attain my RP certification and my LLLT license.
PRTW: Name a highlight in your career.
JP: Passing the PACE and the LLLT exam, within 15 months of each other! Meaning, 2 years of intensive studying, classwork and homework, all while working full-time.
As far as a case highlight, working closely on a Committed Intimate Relationship (formerly known as meretricious relationship) case, which became a published opinion changing the way unmarried individuals in a committed relationship are treated when one party dies without a will.
PRTW: What is the best book you have ever read & why?
JP: To Kill a Mockingbird. No one explains one’s duty as a juror better than Atticus Finch.
PRTW: What is one law in your specialty that people would be interested to hear about? Why are you interested in it?
JP: Under Washington’s current wrongful death statutes when an unmarried, childless person over age 18 is killed, no one is held accountable because the parents in Washington aren’t given legal standing (unless the parents can show they were economically dependent upon the child) to sue the responsible party civilly and there are no other recognized legal survivors.
I am interested in this law because there is no justice for deceased individuals and only further insult to the family left behind. According to our state’s laws, your child/ partner/siblings’ life is arbitrarily valued less than another’s simply because they turned 18 and either chose not to or haven’t had the opportunity to have a child. As an over 18 year old, with no children, who is in a long-term committed (yet non-marital) relationship, it is not just that my life be given less value than another’s.
PRTW: What was your educational path?
JP: I have an Associate’s Degree in Science in Paralegal Studies, Whatcom Community College, in 1997, and a LLLT in Family Law, University of Washington School of Law, in 2015.
PRTW: As an RP and an LLLT, how have your certifications helped you in your career?
JP: Recognition by others in the legal community, and personal and financial growth.
PRWT: What skills should an LLLT or paralegal learn today?
JP: Same for both: computer skills, including common office software and Adobe Acrobat, the ability to troubleshoot computer hardware issues, and strong verbal and written communication skills.
PRTW: What did you find most rewarding about being a LLLT and a paralegal?
JP: Same for both: the ability to help people and the gift of their trust at a very difficult time in their life.
PRTW: What role does mentorship play in your career, both as a mentor and a mentee?
JP: I have been very fortunate to have strong female and male attorney and paralegal mentors during my career. I have learned lessons from mentors you cannot get from a book or a classroom. I enjoy assisting others in furthering their own legal careers and legal knowledge.
PRTW: If you could change one thing about the paralegal profession what would it be, and why?
JP: I would like to see some sort of defined standard for the paralegal profession. It is a skilled job with a lot of responsibility. A paralegal can dramatically impact a client’s life for the good or bad. I think it may be time to explore a state licensing exam for paralegals similar to medical assistants, LPNs, and RNs.
PRTW: What legal blogs do you read?
JP: Karen Koehler – The Velvet Hammer
PRTW: What legal podcasts do you listen to?
JP: Serial and Criminal.
PRTW: If you weren't a paralegal or an LLLT, what would you be doing instead, or what would your life be like?
JP: I can’t think of another vocation for me. I’d just like to be able to spend more time in the woods or on the water.
PRTW: What tasks are you allowed to perform now that you are a LLLT versus a paralegal?
JP: I accept and assist clients independently without attorney supervision.
PRTW: What is a “typical day” like in your shoes?
JP: There are no typical days in my shoes. The consistent theme is busy.
PRTW: Are you regulated by an oversight agency?
JP: The Washington State Bar Association and Washington Supreme Court oversee the LLLT practice.
PRTW: Does your city, Washington state, or employer require continuing legal education for paralegals or LLLTs? If so, what are the requirements?
JP: Yes. APR 28, Reg. 14, states: “An LLLT shall complete a minimum of 10 hours of approved continuing education each license year by June 30. A newly licensed LLLT shall be exempt for the first license year. The education must relate to the LLLT’s area of practice, scope of practice, or the subject matter covered in the required LLLT core curriculum and shall include a minimum of two hours in legal ethics and professional responsibility per license year.”
PRTW: Who inspires you?
JP: Anyone who lives their life trying to make this world a better place for others in whatever way they are able.
PRTW: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
JP: A relationship is between two people. This applies equally to both professional and personal relationships.
Jen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.