Although they are not a lawyer, a legal technician is a licensed professional who assists clients with certain legal needs. Washington state was the first to create this unique legal position that empowers non-lawyers who meet specific educational requirements to provide clients with legal assistance.
State laws set very specific duty guidelines for legal technicians. These non-attorney professionals are allowed to research relevant facts, then explain the obtained information clients. They inform clients of pertinent procedures, which includes filing deadlines, required documents and expected results of legal proceedings. Legal techs provide clients with legal materials and guidelines that have been prepared by licensed lawyers. They are allowed to review and explain legal documents to their clients and complete forms on their behalves. Legal techs perform limited legal research in order to create legal documents that are reviewed and approved by an attorney. They may also advise clients regarding which documents may positively or negatively affect the client’s case.
Legal technicians must meet certain education requirements. They will need a two-year degree with at least 45 credits of a core curriculum provided through an ABA-approved law school or paralegal program. There are seven core courses that must be completed through an ABA-approved academic program. These include classes on contracts, legal processes, civil procedures, professional responsibilities, legal research and writing, law office procedures and interviewing and investigation techniques. Courses on legal process will introduce concepts like court rules, powers, systems and civil remedies. Students will learn about their state’s civil court system through studying service processes, motion practices, statutes of limitation and trial alternatives.
Legal techs must have the right skills in order to excel in their positions. They must know how to establish and handle client relationships, which requires them to handle funds, respond to conflicts of interests and maintain communication and confidentiality. Legal techs must be prepared to demonstrate their diligence and competence through model ethical behavior, avoiding unauthorized law practices and being financially responsible. All legal techs will need to have strong knowledge of office procedures and technology, such as case management systems. They must know standard research tools, court documents and legal writing techniques. Because legal techs will handle client accounts, they must have excellent prioritizing, scheduling and time management skills.
Differences by State
Every state has the right to limit or extend the duty scope of legal assistants and technicians. In Washington, legal techs are considered to be limited practice officers, so they must maintain a license to practice law and work exclusively with certain legal areas. In Arizona, legal assistants can prepare documents, but they cannot give clients legal advice, recommend forms to be used or represent clients in court. In New York, legal assistants can help clients complete and organize paperwork. They can also accompany clients in court, but can only answer objective questions from the judge or referee. In California, legal assistants cannot give legal advice, but they can discuss forms that have already been selected by clients.
A legal technician is a newly created professional position that is above a paralegal, but below an attorney.
Source: American Bar Association