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News & Press: Montana Supreme Court

LLLT working group advises against implementing program

Wednesday, October 25, 2017  
Posted by: Joe Menden
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A working group studying the viability of the Limited License Legal Technician legal service model in Montana has unanimously concluded that it would not be the appropriate way to address the state’s increase in self-represented litigants.

The Montana Supreme Court formed the working group in April to explore the LLLT model in use in Washington, instituted in 2012 with an initial focus on family law. In Washington’s program, license candidates must earn an associate degree completed in an ABA-approved paralegal program, complete 15 hours in family law through a curriculum developed by and ABA-approved law school and spend 3,000 hours working under the supervision of a licensed attorney.

The court is now taking public comment on the report. Comments must be filed with the Clerk of the Montana Supreme Court by Dec. 18.

Instead of adopting an LLLT-style program, the working group concluded that Montana should continue to use the various clinics and programs available, increase the usage of webinars for training and advice phone clinics, and increase the number of lawyers willing and able to provide pro bono assistance. The group also noted that development of a linear path to completion of a pro bono dissolution with clear notice and direction, like the 1st Judicial District intends to implement, would bring much-needed organization to the process.

In addition to Washington’s LLLT program, the working group, chaired by recently retired Montana Supreme Court Justice Patricia Cotter, considered Utah’s proposed Licensed Paralegal Practitioner program, a document review assistance program proposed by the judges from Helena’s 1st Judicial District and the work of Montana attorneys with a limited-scope practice.

In reaching its conclusion, the working group cited three chief concerns:

  • Washington’s LLLTs are prohibited under rules of conduct from giving actual legal advice to clients, negotiating with other litigants or lawyers, and appearing in court on behalf of a client. Given these constraints, it is not clear whether one with an LLLT degree could substantially relieve either the challenges self­represented litigants themselves face or the challenges faced by courts when dealing with self-represented litigants.
  • Montana does not have uniform forms. Statewide uniformity of forms is an essential component of the LLLT and LLP programs. All students are trained and tested on one uniform set of forms, and all LLLTs must use those forms in their practices.
  • It is generally assumed that in order to earn an income sufficient to support self and office and repay student loans, an LLLT must charge a minimum of$75 to $100 per hour, and/or work for a firm. These factors may be a deterrent for many low- and moderate-income persons.

All of the working group members do support the idea of developing uniform forms throughout Montana, particularly in family law cases.  However, the report notes that it may be difficult to implement a statewide uniform form program, given that elected clerks of court and sheriffs may not support the idea.

The group members also generally agreed that while components of the LLLT program are worthwhile, the training required by the program is excessive. They determined that what is needed is training on filling out the forms that must be completed in dissolution matters, which could be accomplished through webinars and by educating staff at self-help centers.

The court’s order on the comment period is available here, along with the working group’s report and attached exhibits.