PORT ANGELES — Those who cannot afford a lawyer have a new resource in Clallam County in the form of Vanessa Ridgway, the first limited-license legal technician to practice on the North Olympic Peninsula.
She is only the 17th such technician in the state, according to attorney Mark Baumann of Port Angeles.
Ridgway was sworn in to the Washington State Bar Association as an LLLT by Clallam County Superior Court Judge Eric Rohrer last Wednesday.
“It is very exciting for me to be a pioneer in this field, and it’s also very rewarding,” Ridgway said Friday. “I have always had a desire to help others find justice.”
Washington is the first state in the country to offer the services of LLLTs — intended as an affordable legal support option to help meet the needs of those unable to afford the services of an attorney, according to the state bar association.
The state Supreme Court, with help from the state bar association, created the category of limited-license legal technician in 2015.
LLLTs are trained and licensed to advise and assist people going through divorce, child custody and other family law matters in Washington.
“The Supreme Court envisioned this as a way to provide access to justice — not just as a euphemism, but actually allowing more people to have some sort of representation or some sort of advice as they navigate their way through the legal system,” Ridgway said.
Ridgway will operate out of Baumann’s office, where she has worked throughout the past two years as a paralegal.
In addition to working alongside Baumann to provide legal services to family law clients in Clallam County, Ridgway also will coordinate with the courthouse facilitator and the Clallam-Jefferson County Pro Bono Lawyers and/or BELARI pro bono clinics to offer pro bono and low bono LLLT clinics.
Ridgway, an Australian native who said she has lived in the United States for the past two decades, is a trained paralegal but could not formerly offer legal advice to clients — something reserved for attorneys.
As an LLLT, that is no longer the case, Ridgway said.
“I will be able to offer advice to clients, draft pleadings, prepare documents, explain documents and I can help … unrepresented parties who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford representation,” she said.
“For some people, it might be that they can never afford representation” but still need help “so they can make informed choices,” Ridgway said.
“As part of the legal process, they may be served with discovery requests and not have a clue what to do with them. I can explain those and help them prepare responses.”
Discovery is a pretrial procedure in a lawsuit in which each party can obtain evidence from the other party or parties to prepare their cases.
Further, if clients “go all the way through the process and go to trial, and they can’t afford to pay for an attorney, I can help them prepare for trial so they can go in … and actually represent themselves at trial and hopefully have a chance,” Ridgway said.
LLLTs are not lawyers but are a new class of licensed legal professionals who are allowed to practice law, help clients draft forms and give advice to clients with legal issues in family law cases, according to Baumann.
LLLTs are allowed to practice on their own or with a lawyer. By way of contrast, paralegals are not allowed to give legal advice nor practice law, and they work under the direct supervision of a lawyer.
Requirements for LLLT licensing include 10 years of prior experience as a paralegal — or at least an associate degree in legal studies — successfully completing a one-year LLLT legal training program at the University of Washington, passing a CORE legal skills exam, passing the state bar association’s LLLT bar examination and completing 3,000 hours of experience supervised by a lawyer within a three-year period of passing the bar exam.
The latter is a unique feature of the LLLT program, Baumann said; when attorneys graduate from law school and pass the bar exam, there is no such practical skills requirement.
Once the requirements are completed and they are sworn in to the bar association, LLLTs must comply with an ethical code similar to a lawyer’s ethical code. At this time, LLLTs are not allowed to appear in court for clients, nor are they allowed to negotiate on behalf of clients.
For more information, visit http://tinyurl.com/pdn-lllt-training.
Features Editor Chris McDaniel can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56650, or at [email protected].