Under the withering cross-examination of Bloomberg Law’s Lee Pacchia, Case Western Reserve Law School Dean Lawrence Mitchell played his trump card:
It’s not clear to me there’s an oversupply [of lawyers] problem at all.
With so many legal needs of the poor going unmet, “finding different paths for people who truly want to be lawyers opens up all sorts of possibilities” for law graduates to find jobs, he maintains.
The answer omitted the most salient detail that lingered in the minds of new lawyers. How are they supposed to eat? Seven years of school, meaning seven years of tuition and seven years of not earning a living, add up. And then they still need to eat anew every day. The numbers don’t work.
The academic concern for the segment of society for whom competent legal representation is too expensive is admirable, but the lack of realization that there is no possibility that lawyers can satisfy this underserved need unless society subsidizes the cost or supermarkets start giving lawyers free food remains a problem. There is plenty of unrealistic chatter, but little effort at a real solution. The promise of “pie in the sky when they die” hasn’t made many converts.
This may well change, and change very quickly. If so, it’s going to start in Washington State.
Limited License Legal Technicians
Admission to Practice Rule 28
The Washington Supreme Court adopted the Limited License Legal Technician (LLLT) Rule, effective September 1, 2012. This rule authorizes non-attorneys who meet certain educational requirements to advise clients on specific areas of law, which have yet to be determined.
WSBA’s role is to maintain the high standards set for the legal profession while serving as the regulators of this new rule. The goal is to ensure quality implementation aimed at supporting WSBA members and upholding protection of the public. There is no other state with a similar LLLT rule. This rule provides Washington the opportunity to lead the nation in expanding legal services for the people of our state.
Sound familiar? It should, if you’ve been a regular reader here. While the language is different, the concept is remarkably similar to my proposal for the creation of the position of Legal Practitioner, While Washington is first fleshing out the details of its new position, with the flashy title of LLLT (which I, if I were them, would call 3LT), the concept is nearly identical to mine. Smart guys on that Washington Supreme Court.
One of the greatest fears of legal academia is that law school will be turned into auto mechanic school in an effort to make it practice oriented. In fact, a bizarrely disingenuous debate over this is raging at PrawfsBlawg, reminding thoughtful people how fortunate we are that some of our smarter brethren become scholars rather than advocates. Unlike lawyers, a 3LT will be far more auto mechanic than doctrinal theorist.
Guess what? When your car breaks down, an auto mechanic is what you need. You don’t want a discussion of the effluvia of the law. You want someone who can inexpensively, quickly and properly replace your fan belt. It doesn’t take Harvard to gain this know-how.
While this will certainly suck some of the low-level, bread and butter work out of lawyering, the fact remains that a generalist education isn’t required to perform more discrete legal services. It doesn’t alter the problem of oversupply, which must eventually be confronted by those profiting off the law school cash machine, but it finally addresses fulfillment of the needs of an underserved population in a society where legal requirements touch nearly every aspect of life.
Will the 3LT be capable of fulfilling that niche? Don’t they need to eat too? Well, sure, but then, they won’t need a working knowledge of Friedrich Nietzsche or European literature to do so. Picture, if you will, a technical school, along the lines of what Sanford Brown College does for medical technicians, inexpensively and expeditiously turning out 3LTs fully capable of handling simple wills and trusts, uncontested divorces, UCC and corporation filings. Forget about seven years, and think two years. At night. Over the internet. In their bathrobe.
While they may not be privy to the magic of Kingsfield’s having been taught to “think like a lawyer,” they are more than adequately equipped to distinguish the needs of a client within a niche of law practice. These are not mindless commodity positions, but sufficiently limited so that 3LTs will possess adequate knowledge and discretion to provide excellent legal representation within a very tight practice area.
And the best part of this concept is that it actually has the potential to work, to serve the needs of people who aren’t flush with expendable income, but are capable of paying a reasonable fee for the services they need, if only lawyers would be kind enough to charge a fee that meets their financial situation while sufficing to cover the lawyers’ costs.
Since the downturn has conclusively proven that this will never happen, and as experiments in inexpensive legal representation will never get any better than the current situation of gross oversupply and still no one will to serve the financially modest American, the time has come to recognize that society doesn’t need more Harvard trained lawyers, but could really use some damn good auto mechanics. And Washington State plans to make sure the every citizen’s car is running like a dream. That’s the future.