Robert Ambrogi is a lawyer and writer in Massachusetts.
Michelle Cummings never went to law school. Her formal college education ended in 1998, with a paralegal studies degree from Highline Community College in Des Moines, Wash. But this summer, Cummings could start taking on legal clients who need help filing for divorce or child custody. Like a fully licensed attorney, she’ll be able to open an office and set her own fees.
Cummings is part of Washington state’s ambitious experiment to revolutionize access to legal services, particularly among the poor. In the United States, 80 to 90 percent of low-income people with civil legal problems never receive help from a lawyer. This means that domestic violence victims might file for a restraining order alone. Couples who want to divorce might do it without counsel. In some states, parents who have lost custody of their children might fight that decision without any guidance.