Modern Family Matters

The Role of Limited License Legal Technicians in a Family Law Case

November 03, 2022 with Christy Carpenter Season 1 Episode 71
Modern Family Matters
The Role of Limited License Legal Technicians in a Family Law Case
Show Notes Transcript

We sit down with Limited License Legal Technician (LLLT), Christy Carpenter, to talk through the scope of practice for an LLLT, and the benefit of having one on your family law case. In this interview, Christy answers the following:

• What Exactly Is An LLLT?
• In What Types of Legal Matters Are LLLTs Allowed to Provide Services?
• What Kinds of Legal Services Can an LLLT Provide?
• Are There Services That an LLLT Cannot Provide?
• What Is the Advantage Of Using An LLLT In A Family Law Case?
• …and much more!

If you would like to speak with one of our family law attorneys or LLLTs, please call our office at (503) 227-0200, or visit our website at

Disclaimer: Nothing in this communication is intended to provide legal advice nor does it constitute a client-attorney relationship, therefore you should not interpret the contents as such.

Welcome to Modern Family Matters, a podcast devoted to exploring family law topics that matter most to you. Covering a wide range of legal, personal, and family law matters, with expert analysis from skilled attorneys and professional guests, we hope that our podcast provides answers, clarity, and guidance towards a better tomorrow for you and your family. Here's your host, Steve Altishin.

Steve Altishin  0:28  
Hi, everyone. I'm Steve Altishin, Director of Client Partnerships at Pacific Cascade legal. Today we have Christy Carpenter here with us to talk about the role of Limited Licensed Legal Technicians in a family law case. Hey, Christy, how you doing today?

Christy Carpenter  0:47  
I'm doing wonderful. I'm very grateful for the opportunity to talk about this.

Steve Altishin  0:52  
Oh, this is gonna be fun. So before we talk, just can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Christy Carpenter  0:57  
Sure. I began my legal career as a paralegal in 1995. My first job was with the King County Bar Association, Legal Services Agency helping low income people do their own divorces. I gradually moved up, worked for a boutique law firm, worked for large, large family law firm in the Puget Sound area. And then I became licensed as a Limited License Legal Technician in 2016. I opened my own firm in 2017 and joined Pacific Cascade Legal last year.

Steve Altishin  1:31  
I love it, then you're the perfect person to talk to about this. And I'm just gonna start with the obvious, I'll start with the beginning question. Tell us just what exactly a limited licensed legal technician is.

Christy Carpenter  1:47  
So I think I like to give the analogy that a Triple LT, which is what we call it, for sure, is similar to a registered nurse practitioner in the medical arena. We are licensed to practice law, just like attorneys are. We get our license from the State Bar Association. However, our scope of practice is limited. One of the big areas where we're limited is in actually speaking to the court on behalf of a client. However, we can do pretty much everything else, we can prepare court documents, file them or arrange to have them served, we can communicate with the other party or the other party's attorney. We can attend mediation with a client, prepare clients for hearings, and in some cases, we can actually go to a hearing with a client and assist during that hearing. But we can't ask, we can't speak to the court directly. And if the court does have a question of fact or procedure, they are permitted to ask the triple lt a question. There are things we can do to compel, to prepare for trial, which I've had several of those recently, to do the trial brief, prepare exhibits, the notebooks, we can attend trial and assist during the breaks. But of course, we can't sit at the counsel table with the client. So most things that attorneys do, triple LT's can do. And it is limited in Washington, the the practice area we're limited to is family. We can't practice in any other area of law. 

Steve Altishin  3:21  
Right. So I guess the term is pro se that is your client, technically, is representing themselves. But you can pretty much do everything other than, like you said, speak to the court to help them.

Christy Carpenter  3:39  
Correct. Typically, when attorneys represent clients, they file what's called a Notice of Appearance. And in that case, they get notices from the court and from the other side, or the other side's attorney. And the other side, the attorney, has to communicate with that party's attorney. So in this case, the other side has to communicate still with the pro se client, although there are mechanisms by which we can ask that they communicate with a triple LT concurrently with the pro se client. 

Steve Altishin  4:13  
So you said you're registered, or you're licensed. You got a bar number, you got the whole thing. Is this a thing that's unique to Washington, or is it something that can be found around the country?

Christy Carpenter  4:28  
Well, Washington was the first states to enact such a limited license. In 2012, the Supreme Court of Washington approved this new license, and the first licensees people were licensed in 2015. Since then, other states have looked at Washington's example and have promulgated their own limited licensing. I believe the second state to do so was Utah and they, I believe they are licensing their I think they call them Limited Paralegal Practitioners, don't quote me on that, or something like that. But they I believe can practice family law, landlord tenant, and possibly some sort of debtor creditor, and those are the big, I would say the top three areas where low income and even moderate income needs assistance, this family law, debtor, creditor issues and housing eviction issues. Yeah. So Utah was a second. Arizona, also Minnesota, and then Oregon is going to start their licensing program in July of next year. Along with Colorado, I believe it has a pilot program. All in all, I believe there are approximately 20 states right now who have either actively enacted this type of license, we're working toward that.

Steve Altishin  6:06  
You mentioned that you can practice most legal matters under family law, if it's considered a family law case. Family Law can sometimes be kind of a bit of an amorphous term. So can we talk about that a little bit in terms of the types of family law cases that you can practice in? Because I know some people consider family law to be everything from from surrogacy to adoption to Guardianships to estate planning to divorce?

Christy Carpenter  6:43  
Right. So you mentioned several of the areas where triple LTs are not permitted to practice: guardianship, adoptions, surrogacy, dependency cases, those types of things. The more common divorces establishing parenting plans for unmarried couples establishing child support, paternity cases where testing needs to be done to to determine who a father is, domestic violence cases, those are the big ones. And then within family law, within those types of cases themselves, there are certain issues that we cannot address. Some of those being if a client or or spouse is in the midst of a bankruptcy, we have to refer them to a bankruptcy attorney to give instructions on how we would deal with that bankruptcy with bankruptcy within the context of the divorce. We cannot take on cases where there is a question of jurisdiction under UCC, je a for a parenting plan, we cannot deal with cases, whether under the Indian Child Welfare Act, if a child is part Native American, and a tribe might have a say in the parenting for that child's and then other issues with might be, we cannot take on a divorce where there is a division of a business, we'll have to refer that out to an attorney. And then when the issue is resolved, that attorney can provide the triple LT with information on what to put and then divorce orders so that we can we are within our scope at the end.

Steve Altishin  8:26  
I'm assuming that all of the different, I would call them iterations of divorce, legal separation, separation of a registered partnership, all of those things fall into the level of the family law types of cases you can do.

Christy Carpenter  8:50  
Generally, we cannot. That's another question. For unmarried couples, we cannot assist with what's called intimate partner relationships. So where there's a need for division of property between unmarried couples, we can't assist with those because those technically are merely civil cases.

Steve Altishin  9:13  
Those really are just civil cases that fall into that. You mentioned that on some of the stuff that you you can't do on your own or just initially, you can work with an attorney, and an attorney can work on some of that stuff, and then it can come back to you and you can help.

Christy Carpenter  9:33  
Yes, yes. So we mentioned some of those things bankruptcy, resolving a jurisdictional issue. Another Another common example is we cannot prepare qualified domestic relations orders or even refer to them in a case until a client has met with an attorney and determined what needs to be done. And what's the division of a retirement plan or a pension? Yeah, that's me. So yes, we do work with attorneys. Another instance where a client might want to move to an attorney for part of the time is when they have a hearing coming up. And they do not feel comfortable speaking on their own behalf in court. What I typically do for my clients during hearings is I'll prepare talking points, I will coach them on what to expect. We get on in Washington, most of the counties have zoom hearings. And so I'll, I'll get on the Zoom platform with them will establish a chat on on a chat app. And so I can confer with the client while the hearings going on. And often before the hearing, they have many questions, because there are other cases going on. And Silva have questions about things, you know, as to what they should do. And so it's very interactive. Again, I can't speak on behalf of a client, but I'm right there coaching with them. And that's most hearings, there are very few hearings that we cannot assist during, so. So if a client doesn't feel comfortable speaking on their behalf, for example, I've had a client with a DD, and they just get tongue tied and they get nervous and being nervous is very common. Most clients are nervous. So they have they could have the option of having one of our attorneys file unlimited notice of appearance just to appear at that hearing. And then when the hearings done, they'll withdraw and then go back to my services, which are the behind the scenes services. So that's an option or if they're going to trial, I can do all the pre trial work, keep the attorney apprised of what's going on even have the attorney review and have some say in the trial brief. And then the attorney would actually represent them at the trial. Right.

Steve Altishin  12:03  
So other dumb question. The the place that lol LT fits. is sometimes I mean, I'm thinking like, Well, why don't I just hired attorney to the whole thing? You know, there's the reason that you guys are doing what you're doing, I would imagine has something to do with, you know, saving the client money.

Christy Carpenter  12:40  
Yes. So the license was created primarily to assist moderate and compliance with low and compliance. Often, they're 125% or below the poverty level, sometimes receiving public benefits. Often they have access to legal services agencies, legal services, agencies receive federal grants and state grants to help those who are at the poverty level. But for those who are above that poverty level, they have fewer resources. And so the license was created to make it more affordable for that niche of litigants to be able to afford legal services. So we're talking generally, above 200% of the federal poverty level. And as an example, I have a client, a single mother who's got two kids in her household 400% of the federal poverty level is $7,320. income for a family of three. So it seems pretty high. But when you're talking about hiring a lawyer at 350 $375 an hour, and you're that's that 7300 was gross income. So conceivably 5500. Net, supporting a family of three, you know, once your mortgage is paid, and all your bills and your credit cards, if you're in debt, there's not much left to be able to afford an attorney. And so our triple T rates are usually quite a bit less than attorneys. I generally say they're at least least half of what an attorney's rate is, and sometimes as low as a third of what our base rate is.

Steve Altishin  14:32  
If if I am just not sure I got the divorce coming. And I'm not sure if if what I need to do, how to do it, how I can afford it. Can I come in and talk to you before you even kind of we hired you to kind of go through and you can tell me Yeah, or no or yes and no one on what you could do to help them

Christy Carpenter  14:59  
apps Lily, I have consultations with clients first to determine what their issues are and whether any of their issues might be outside of my scope. So I asked her team that I do a analysis of what their income is and what my rate would be, because I do try to charge on a sliding scale based on income and household size. And I go over with the procedures for whatever their protection, particular action is discussed what the predicted timeline might be, we talked about whether we might, we'd want to do discovery, which is an exchange of information, formal exchange of information, whether they might need a motion for temporary orders, in the interim, if it's a contested action, and it's expected to go on for months, 1012 months, it can be about a year before you get a trial date. And so often a client will want to have temporary orders entered in the courtroom in order to get potentially child support, set a parenting plan, maybe get some spousal maintenance, maybe divide some property initially. So we go,

Unknown Speaker  16:15  
yes, the discovery one

Steve Altishin  16:20  
really jumps out because I know that a lot of people I've talked to who will kind of be especially if they're not going to fall, the first thing that sort of kind of hits them is this discovery request, and they need, you know, there's a list of 82,000 things that feels like, and that can be pretty daunting, but they can come in to you and you can help them with that.

Christy Carpenter  16:42  
Yes. And in fact, I've had clients just hire me to help them put their discovery together their discovery responses, or send discovery, you might have a spouse who has had control of the the couple's finances, and a client doesn't have access to any of that. And and there needs to be some transparency as to what assets are home what debts are owed. Before you can even move on to any mediation or really Tony's any sort of finalization of the case. Yeah.

Steve Altishin  17:18  
There's really anything I should be aware of, if I'm gonna hire you. I know one of the things you talked about was actual physical representation in court? Or what about getting things from the other attorney or getting things from the court? I can't come in and rely on you. I'm taking it to make, you know, to receive court documents to receive court orders or can I?

Christy Carpenter  17:47  
Yes, you can. So what I do, when I first get into get into your case, assuming that it's been filed, or at the time of filing, I will have the client file and notice of appearance, pro se. And then within that notice of appearance, I also list my contact information. And it requires that the court and the opposing party or the opposing party's attorney, communicate with both of us concurrently. And so. So that kind of solves that problem. And the courts in Washington, at least in the big counties, they're very familiar with legal technicians work and I very routinely communicate with the court on behalf of my client, I always see see my client because again, as you said, the clients are technically pro se and they should be receiving firsthand communications. Yeah.

Steve Altishin  18:43  
Well, that actually, I mean that I don't know how that away around the rule, but it it kind of is a little bit and helps at least it would help me feel better. That Oh, my God, I you know, I missed something. I like that. I like that a lot. So the advantages of an lol T and a family law case, we've talked a little bit about those Have we missed some of the advantages that you see in an LLP matter, versus going with a full representation of an attorney?

Christy Carpenter  19:23  
Well, we talked about the cost, and the cost is prohibitive for many clients. I've had many clients come to me after they've already had an attorney and they've already spent 1020. In some cases, I've had a couple clients who've spent $75,000 on an attorney and they and they are still not through the trial stage. So cost is the big one. Secondarily, I guess if if clients don't have very complicated cases, it may not make sense to hire an attorney and spend $350 Just an hour doing an uncontested divorce, why not hire a triple t if there are not any of those issues that are outside the triple T scope. Another thing that I found from clients who are coming to me after having had an attorney, is they have gained more of an understanding of the law and the procedure, when they come to me, because I empower my clients with that knowledge, I thoroughly explain the law, we will go over a statute in detail, you know, showing the elements that they need to prove for a specific issue. We'll go over the procedure in detail, I will often send them the court rule on whatever it is, for example, a motion for reconsideration, you know, this is the court rule, this is what you need to do. I found that they really appreciate having the knowledge of the law and the procedure rather than if you have a lawyer, I think a lawyer is less inclined to spend the time explaining that all that out to them, and rather they just do it.

Steve Altishin  21:13  
In the kind of makes sense. I mean, you know, an attorney is also trying to not to save them some money and knows how to do it knows how to do it quickly. And and then does it in well, that saves the money. You're right. Sometimes someone can feel kind of out of it because they don't really know the why of what's going on. So you mentioned uncontested uncontested divorces. You also see this a lot? Well, it's uncontested. All I got to do is file it seems to me that those people could use you.

Christy Carpenter  21:47  
Yes, yeah, depending on what county you're in, things can get extremely complicated, you know, knowing how to note a hearing. And especially over the past couple years, during COVID, when things changed so dramatically about how to go about doing that. You know, we went from all in person hearings to zoom hearings back to some hybrids. And during that time, especially in King County, the rules changed every other month. And so, as a triple T, I had to really stay on top of that. And, you know, be knowledgeable of that. Whereas pro se people, sometimes they don't have anybody to help them know, in the bigger counties, there are family law facilitators at the courthouses who can help. However, they do charge sometimes, every time you see them around $30, let's say and, you know, if you don't get all your questions answered, initially, you end up having to go back and I have had clients who have gone back to the facilitator three, four or five times and haven't gotten a resolution to their case. So having someone who's there, from beginning to the end of an uncontested case is very valuable.

Steve Altishin  23:07  
We're coming up to time, but just a couple things. One, you kind of hit on it, why they why ll T's exist, and when would the original kind of reasonings and it was because the difficulty of getting represented representation. And can you just kind of talk a little bit about that? Because it's a it's a real problem, the amount of people today who are able to get representation? And I guess on that is the state of Washington at least thinking of going outside of family law to expand this at all?

Christy Carpenter  23:44  
Okay, so two prong question. The license was created following. The Washington civilly civil legal needs study regarding low income people's access to legal services. Now, that was in 2015. And at that time, about 76%, of low income people did not get the help they needed to solve their legal issue. And actually 65% Did not even pursue any help at all. They either didn't know what was out there, or they just figured they couldn't afford an attorney. So really, we're only talking about 11%, who actually sought help and got help. And that civil legal, legal needs study does not even take into account as we discussed earlier. modest means people this was people at the federal poverty level. What was the second part of your question again?

Steve Altishin  24:47  
Oh, just whether or not the you know, they're thinking of expanding. You said it's just a family law right now.

Christy Carpenter  24:57  
And other types of law so Unfortunately, in 2020, the Washington State Supreme Court sunsetted, the triple T license, and by sunset, I mean, they are not allowing any other triple T's become to become licensed. Those who were licensed were grandfathered in so we can still practice. I do serve on the Washington State Bar Association triple T board. And we are one of our tasks is to sunrise the license. So we won't be working on trying to convince the Supreme Court that it is a valuable license, and that should be reinstated. Part of being on the triple T board. Before this was sunset, it was exploring other areas in which triple T's can be licensed other practice areas. And so we did look at housing, we've looked at administrative law, the Chief Administrative Law Judge in Washington actually was very supportive of triple T's, assisting at administrative hearings. And by administrative I'm talking employment law, public benefits, administrative child support hearings. Right now, administrative law and most most administrative law hearings, a layperson can assist and so it makes complete sense that a triple t should be able to assist. That would if if indeed, the license is summarized, at some some point, we will, again, attempt to expand into other areas of law.

Steve Altishin  26:31  
Well it seems like it's really doing a great service. And that should be considered. Thank you so much. We have we have come to the end. Always too quick. And so I just want to thank you so much, Christine, for kind of talking to do this, talking about the role of the triple Lt. And, and not just the role, but the importance of it, and doing it in a language that we can all actually understand. So thank you so much today.

Christy Carpenter  26:59  
You're very welcome. Thank you for inviting me. Oh, I

Steve Altishin  27:03  
will invite you again. And everyone else. Thank you for joining us today. And if anyone has any further questions on today's topic, you can post it here. Or you can give us a call and we can get you connected with Christie right away. So until next time, stay safe, stay happy, be well.

This has been Modern Family Matters, a legal podcast focusing on providing real answers and direction for individuals and families. Our podcast is sponsored by Landerholm Family Law and Pacific Cascade Family Law, serving families in Oregon and Washington. If you are in need of legal counsel or have additional questions about a family law matter important to you, please visit our websites at or You can also call our headquarters at (503) 227-0200 to schedule a case evaluation with one of our seasoned attorneys. Modern Family Matters, advocating for your better tomorrow and offering legal solutions important to the modern family.