State bar associations are loosely organized into regional conferences. Wisconsin belongs to the Great Rivers Conference, so called because the Mississippi, the Ohio, and the Platte rivers roughly outline its member states, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska.
Once a year, the presidents, presidents-elect, and executive directors meet to discuss issues and trends.
This year’s topics included the impact of law school curriculum and debt on the profession, pro se litigants, member engagement and communication, and developing future leaders. But limited licensed legal technicians (LLLTs) engendered the most discussion, which led to a discussion on the future of the profession.
As established by the Washington Supreme Court, LLLTs are trained and licensed to advise people going through divorce, child custody, and other family-law matters in Washington. They can work independently of lawyers and charge their own fees. The University of Washington Law School provides most of their training. Other potential areas of licensure include real estate, bankruptcy, and immigration, all forms-heavy practice areas.
There is disagreement concerning the ability of LLLTs to practice outside lawyers’ purview. Does this constitute the unauthorized practice of law, and does this take work away from licensed lawyers? At the conference, every state bar said their state allows real estate agents to complete standard forms such as offers to purchase. Thus, in a sense, every state already permits LLLTs; but we call them real estate agents.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court approved this practice in State ex rel. Reynolds v. Dinger, 14 Wis. 2d 193, 109 N.W.2d 685 (1961). So it is interesting that the Wisconsin Realtors® Association recently had legislation introduced to codify the supreme court-granted authority. In Dinger, the supreme court reaffirmed its authority over the courts and the practice of law and noted that completing authorized legal forms was the practice of law but it would grant an exception for trained and licensed real estate agents.
There is disagreement concerning the ability of LLLTs to practice outside lawyers’ purview. Does this constitute the unauthorized practice of law, and does this take work away from licensed lawyers?
Why, then, is the Realtors® attempting to have the state legislature codify the exception they were granted in Dinger? And why have they misled their membership on their website by stating that the State Bar of Wisconsin in 2008 tried to overturn Dinger and “take away their right” to complete such legal forms when, in fact, the State Bar went out of its way both privately in conversation with the Realtors’® executive director and publicly in testimony to the supreme court that it had no such desire or designs?
Is it because the Realtors® believe that the state legislature now has authority over the practice, given all the exceptions to the practice of law by lawyers granted in SCR chapter 23? Is it because since Dinger, the Realtors® got the statutes amended so that, unlike lawyers, they no longer have a responsibility to the client that hired them? And that maybe this change in standing may affect the outcome in Dinger? Or is it that a beleaguered profession is simply trying to build a higher wall around itself?
I encourage every lawyer to recognize that change is not new to the profession but instead is taking different forms. And I encourage you to resolve to better understand those changes and work to make them benefit your practice and your clients, whether that change occurred 50 years ago with real estate agents gaining the authority to complete legal forms, or today’s creation of LLLTs in other states, or any of the myriad of today’s challenges.