CalBar’s Limited License Working Group‏

Thanks to Barbara Liss several LinkedIn discussion forums are discussing the California Bar’s Working Group on Limited Licensing. The best discussion I’ve read so far is on NFPA’s board:

The discussion is based on a story in the California Bar Journalthat states:

Looking for ways to increase consumer protection and expand legal services to poor Californians, the State Bar’s Board of Trustees began studying the idea of limited-practice licensing following a bar retreat in San Diego this January. The working group, an advisory body that will ultimately make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees’ Regulation, Admissions and Discipline Committee, held its first public meeting on April 11. The group heard from Littlewood and other speakers, including a representative from the Law Society of Upper Canada.

The article also does a fairly good job of describing the program recently initiated in the state of  Washington.

Of particular interest is Barbara’s initial comment and Kathleen Mountjoy’s response, both of which are set forth below in full. I haven’t asked for permission to do this re-posting so Barbara, Kathleen, and NFPA, if there’s an objection, please let me know and I’ll remove them.


The concern I have is about whether the California State Bar is the appropriate vehicle for oversight of any limited license legal technician or whether instead a division of the California Department of Consumer Affairs is the better avenue. At present, Consumer Affairs has a division for licensed professional fiduciaries and private investigators. The Secretary of State’s office is charged with monitoring immigration consultants (and hasn’t done a very good job of it, frankly, but that’s not entirely the SOS’s fault, the code is missing any educational requirements and doesn’t specify any continuing legal education requirements either).

The State Bar is the entity that monitors lawyers’ behavior and makes sure that the lawyer monopoly is protected. Therefore, it would have a direct conflict of interest if it was also charged with determining what falls in the realm of work for limited license legal technicians and what is outside the scope and thus UPL. It seems to me that a more independent board charged with this responsibility, answerable to the Dept. of Consumer Affairs would be the better and more objective entity to make that call.


Regarding Barbara’s comments. Good thinking on the DOCA oversight authority. However, LDAs are governed by the DOCA and it does nothing. ALDAP complained to the DOCA, providing investigative reports and evidence concerning fraud upon unknowing consumers (we performed a number of sting operations much like contractors do). We reported to the State Bar, local law enforcement, including District Attorney’s offices and DOCA. No response from the DOCA. The other agencies did respond, but it took months.

Before its demise, ALDAP was working on a proposal that the Secretary of State should be the agency to govern LDAs inasmuch as it already governs notaries and immigration consultants. I really like how the SOS maintains a page on its website where consumers can look up an immigration consultant’s credentials and photograph. I also like how the SOS sent me a re-register letter the week before my IC registration lapsed.

I transcribe immigration trial tapes and can tell you from the testimony I have banged out that the ALJs are well aware of the fraud and incompetence of ICs and actually, many know the worst ICs by their business or personal name. They ask who did your paperwork and they ask other questions such as where did you meet this person, how much did you pay, what is their address, phone? It is up to the ALJ and the federal attorney to report these abusers and they do – or at the least, it has been placed on record that they plan to do so.

It seems to me that the SOS would be the best “monitor” as you are correct, Cal Bar only has quasi authority over non-attorneys. In any event, as we at ALDAP were told, California does not have a budget or means to investigate non-attorney consumer protection fraud. Some of the DA offices told us that its fraud unit can only handle child abuse, elder abuse and bad checks – all due to budget cuts.

I doubt this licensing will gain teeth just yet. And it will be interesting to see the legislation itself if and when it appears. Registration vs. licensing? Law Students or law grads? But let us hope, for the sake of consumers, that paralegals and LDAs not be allowed to provide legal advice. Yes, there are those that would be exceptional, but there are far more who could cause harm consumers’ rights and remedies due to lack of knowledge and misperception of the law/statutes. I have seen paralegals time and time again, create documents with points and authorities which were incomprehensible. As a paralegal I know to seek legal advice from competent attorneys and I do for my own personal legal matters.

LDAs are, pursuant to statute, allowed to provide published information to their clients. In that regard, I supply my clients with rules of court, attorney practice guide information and sample documents – and any other writings or publications I can locate if necessary. This helps self-representing court users to gain success with their legal matters and I avoid UPL. If my clients are unable to comprehend the materials, I tell them that they should seek the services of legal counsel. This is also pursuant to statute. However, such a determination is in and of itself UPL. My provision of the published information creates a threshold for which such a determination may be made.

Finally, AB 590 provides for mandatory attorney pro bono work on behalf of impoverished parties in civil cases who meet the “criteria.” I would like to see Cal Bar institute mandatory pro bono attorney clinics – to work much like MCLE – where attorneys are required to donate so many hours to providing any and all inquiring consumers with free legal advice (much like the law library programs).

The article states, “If Washington State’s experience and California’s history is any indication, it could be a long and contentious road ahead for a State Bar of California group exploring the idea of a limited-practice licensing program.” This is likely true. However, I do hope that at the end of that road is a good legislation creating the limited license. It is important for the paralegal profession, but even more important is the effect it can have on the access to justice problem in the United States.

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One Comment

  • Clifford Smith says:

    To place legal technicians under the executive branch (SoS or Consumer Affairs) would be aggrandizing the authority of the executive branch by usurping the power that truly belongs to a coordinate branch, the judicial. As such, it would result in a violation of the separation of powers doctrine under art. III, section 3 of the California Constitution: “[P]ersons charged with the exercise of one power may not exercise either of the others except as permitted by this Constitution.”

    Specifically, it would “materially impair” the “core functions” of the judicial branch, which has inherent powers to regulate the practice of law within the state of California. See Carmel Valley Fire Prot. Dist. v. State, 20 P.3d 533, 538 (Cal. 2001) (ruling that actions by one branch that significantly affect another are permitted, but not where those actions materially impair the core functions of the other branch).

    As the administrative arm for the Supreme Court, the California State Bar is within its power to regulate legal technicians – which unlike Legal Document Assistants, Professional Fiduciaries and Immigration Consultants – would be authorized to practice law and provide legal advice in limited areas; therefore, they would fall under the powers of the judicial branch – and not the executive branch.

    For the preceding reasons the concept of placing legal technicians under the executive branch is misplaced.

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