Marcia Jackson sat at a wooden table between long shelves of books at the King County Law Library. The 64-year-old cook needed help dealing with what she described as a complex family trust issue.
She had come to one of the few places where she could get it: a neighborhood law clinic, where volunteer lawyers dish out advice on a wide range of legal topics, for free.
“When you’re talking about protecting yourself and knowing your rights, that shouldn’t be just for rich people,” she said.
The state Supreme Court had people like Jackson in mind this year when it made Washington the first state to begin licensing non-lawyers to give legal advice, for a fraction of what lawyers often charge.
Under the “limited license legal technician” program, experienced paralegals who take additional courses in certain practice areas — for now, just family law — and who pass relevant exams become what’s been described as the nurse practitioners of the legal world.
They can advise clients, perform legal research and draft documents to be filed, though they can’t represent their clients in court or negotiate on their behalf.
“There’s a crucial need,” said Professor Deborah Rhode, director of Stanford Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession, noting that surveys have shown “over four-fifths of the legal needs of poor people and close to one-half of the needs of moderate income people are not being met.”
“Lawyers have priced themselves out of the market for people of limited means,” she said.