Vermont Bar Journal, Vol. 40, No. 2 Winter 2014, Vol. 39, No. 4 - Page 18

by Melissa Young Wilcox, Carie Tarte & Heather Moreau Equal Access to Justice: Paralegals and Limited Legal Licensure Equal justice for all is the foundation of Vermont’s legal system. In September 2001, the Vermont Supreme Court’s Committee on Equal Access to Legal Services determined that there is limited access to civil legal assistance for Vermont residents. The Equal Access to Justice Coalition was formed in 2004 and has since strived to address this need. Vermont Legal Aid, Vermont Law Line, Have Justice Will Travel, free legal clinics, and attorneys offering pro-bono and low-bono services are important resources. Unfortunately, there still remain a significant number of Vermonters in need of legal services without access to representation. According to recent data obtained from the Court Administrator’s Office, there are a large number of pro se litigants in both the Civil and Family Divisions of Vermont Superior Court. Of active divorce cases 54% are pro se. 84 % of active parentage cases are pro se. Of foreclosure actions 1% of plaintiffs and 74% of defendants are pro se. 2% of plaintiffs and 85% of defendants in collections cases are pro se. Of landlord tenant cases, 24% of plaintiffs and 90% of defendants are pro se. Of small claims actions 64% of plaintiffs and 94% of defendants are pro se. It is clear from these statistics that there is a noticeable discrepancy between represented plaintiffs and pro se defendants. Vermont paralegals want to help bridge this gap and be able to provide direct limited legal assistance to the self-represented. Board members of both the Vermont Paralegal Organization (VPO) and the Vermont Bar Association (VBA) met this past spring to discuss, among other things, the potential stratification of the legal profession, paralegal licensure, pro bono clinics, and the ethical considerations related to these issues. Both organizations agreed that continued communication and collaboration between them would be beneficial. The VPO Board submitted a proposal to the VBA requesting the creation of a paralegal section. The VBA approved the proposal and established the Paralegals Section in July of 2013. The Section’s first order of business is planning a dinner and CLE event regarding the topic of limited legal licensure. This topic was addressed at the VBA’s 2013 mid-year meeting and it is the Section’s goal to continue the dialog until a solution is implemented. 18 Washington State Is Doing It; Is Vermont Ready? In November 2001, the Washington State Supreme Court made a historic decision commissioning the Task Force on Civil Equal Justice Funding. The Task Force was, in part, directed to conduct a study of the civil legal needs of Washington’s lowincome residents, determine the degree to which these needs were being addressed, and develop proposals for long-term sustainable funding to ensure that basic legal assistance is available. In September 2003, the Task Force concluded its study and published its findings in the The Washington State Civil Legal Needs Study. The study concluded that low income residents of Washington State had limited access to affordable legal services despite having important legal problems. The results of the study prompted an initiative to find ways to reduce the cost of legal services while continuing to maintain quality and reliability of services. The concept of limited legal licensure for nonlawyers emerged. On September 3, 2013, upon the recommendation of the Washington Practice of Law Board, the Washington State Supreme Court adopted New APR 28 – Limited Practice Rule for Limited License Legal Technicians (New APR 28).1 New APR 28 authorizes certain non-lawyers to render limited legal assistance or advice in approved practice areas. Regulations for Limited License Legal Technicians Application Requirements Under New APR 28, in order for a nonlawyer to render limited legal assistance and become a Limited License Legal Technician (LLLT) in Washington State, an applicant must: (1) Age. Be at least 18 years of age; (2) Moral Character and Fitness to Practice. Be of good moral character and demonstrate fitness to practice as an LLLT; (3) Education. Have the following education, unless waived by the Limited License Legal Technician Board2 (the Board) through regulation: a. an associate level degree or higher; b. 45 credit hours of core curriculum instruction in paralegal studies THE VERMONT BAR JOURNAL • WINTER 2014 as approved by the Board with instruction to occur at an ABA approved law school or ABA approved paralegal education program; c. In each practice area in which an applicant seeks licensure, instruction in the approved practice area, which must be based on a curriculum developed by or in conjunction with an ABA approved law school. For each approved practice area, the Board shall determine the key concepts or topics to be