Lawmakers slam state bar’s proposal giving nonlawyers a role in legal services

The chairs of California’s two legislative judicial commissions this week accused the state bar of “misappropriating[ing] its attention to its primary mission of protecting the public” by pursuing proposals to allow non-lawyers to provide a limited range of legal services.

In a December 7 letter Bar Leaders Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, and Sen. Tom Umberg, D-Santa Ana, warned that “any proposal that would significantly alter current consumer protections for clients receiving services legal and would fundamentally alter the sacrosanct principles of the lawyer – the client relationship would be scrutinized by our committees.

The two legislative Democrats took aim at a current bar proposal to create a so-called regulatory sandbox that would allow non-lawyers to develop legal services, such as apps, focused on unaffordable Californians. to retain the services of a lawyer. The idea, currently being worked on by state bar committees, is inspired by a similar model program in the state of Utah. Any final plan would likely require legislative amendments approved by the Legislative Assembly.

The plaintiffs’ bar complained that such a proposal would give businesses, free from the professional and ethical restrictions that lawyers face, a worrying foothold in the legal industry.

“The regulatory sandbox could become an open invitation for for-profit corporations, hedge funds or others to offer legal services or practice law directly without proper legal training, regulatory oversight, attorney-client relationship protections or adequate discipline for the at the expense of Californians in need of legal assistance,” the two lawmakers wrote.

In an email Thursday, Ruben Duran, chair of the bar’s board of trustees, said the bar was “fully committed” to working with the Legislative Assembly “to address their concerns and ensure that the bar in the state effectively fulfills all aspects of its statutory mission: public protection, expanding access to legal services and promoting diversity in the legal profession.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye also addressed the lawmakers’ letter during a meeting with reporters on Thursday.

“Honestly, it’s not surprising,” she said. “But we hope that with the opposition comes, ‘Well, what’s the alternative then?’ What are we going to do? Just put your hands up and say nothing?”

Cantil-Sakauye said that while the court monitored the work of the bar, the judges were waiting to see a final proposal before considering an approval.

The stone was also critical in the past the bar plans to create a paraprofessional program, which would allow trained non-lawyers to offer legal aid in limited areas such as family law. The Assemblyman said the state Supreme Court should instead consider lowering the passing or cutoff mark on the bar exam or expanding the reciprocity of the bar exam for increase the number of attorneys available to serve clients in California.

A draft proposal is circulating for public comment until January.

“We reiterate our call for the State Bar to redouble its efforts to focus on the core mission of addressing attorney misconduct and supporting proven programs that provide access to justice and legal services such as legal aid, court-sponsored self-help, and volunteering. assistance, as well as innovative approaches to increasing the number of licensed attorneys in California,” Stone and Umberg wrote this week.

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