Do unlicensed law practitioners create an unnecessary burden on family members?
Last week the Florida Supreme Court ruled that individuals engaging in some Medicaid planning activities were practicing unlicensed law. The ruling supported an advisory opinion of the Florida Bar (No. SC14-211) that proposed that persons engaging in: drafting personal service contracts, preparing and executing qualified income trusts, or rendering legal advice as regards Florida state law to the obtaining of Medicaid benefits. The individuals in question were the non-lawyer staff of the Florida Department of Children and Families who were assisting the public in the Medicaid application process. On the other side of the country, in Washington state, nearly the exact opposite has occurred. In September of 2012, the Washington Supreme Court adopted the Limited License Legal Technician (LLLT) Rule making it legal for individuals with certain educational requirements to advise and assist clients in approved practice areas of law, making it the first state to do so. In 2013, California joined the fray and New York and Georgia are following.
Nagaich compares the LLLTs to the medical equivalent of physician assistants and nurse practitioners. Without a medical degree these individuals can offer limited medical diagnosis and treatment without the medical degree. But, at heart is whether non-lawyers won’t dilute the quality of the work. For instance, a technician might miss important information that would have caused a lawyer to proceed in a different direction. That’s the concern Rajiv Nagaich has with allowing non-lawyers to practice law. That people will assume that they are getting a lawyer when they are hiring a technician and by so doing they will inadvertently leave some planning undone and regrettably burden family members with the outcome. And that’s precisely the reason it takes seven years of schooling, three of them in law school. In addition, services from LLLTs would by definition be much more limited in scope than the services offered by an attorney thus placing consumers in the position of potentially needing to go elsewhere to address problems they could have addressed in a single firm.