Legal Document Assistants
I’m sorry this update is coming a bit late. The 5/22 meeting of the State Bar’s working group was again very interesting. The first half of the meeting revolved a lot about how fraudster “notarios” take advantage of immigrants in scams to take their money. The speakers included one attorney from the U.S. Attorney Office and one from the LA Department of Consumer Affairs. Both thought that this program would be very helpful in enforcement efforts.
The rest of the day first described the economics of providing legal services, and after that, the nuts-and-bolts of what a limited license program would be like. They would roll it out to one area first (in WA they did family law first), then to other areas.
Although they did indicate that the program would cover certain practice areas, they did not say what they thought those practice areas should be. They seem very interested in Family Law and Landlord/Tenant, as there are obvious access to justice issues there. They also talked a lot about immigration, and the difficulty of overcoming federal preemption issues. A glaring question in my mind is whether they intend to include estate planning (as they will do in Washington), bankruptcy, or other areas.
They touched on the proposed educational requirements, which would be about double what they are for LDAs, with other requirements like a mini bar exam for each practice area (so if there are four practice areas, like divorce, estates, immigration, landlord/tenant, there’d be four mini-exams in order to do the areas the technician would want to do).
They have not actually said anything about grandfathering existing LDAs in explicitly, although they alluded to it. There is precedent for doing so, as the other jurisdictions (Washington and Ontario) all grandfathered in their class of existing service providers. The previous reports of the State Bar also included grandfathering the existing independent paralegals of the time.
California is a little different though, because we are the only place where they are going to introduce limited licensing where a legitimate class of paraprofessionals (us) already exists. That makes everything entirely unpredictable, and no one should get their hopes up. Obviously we will take the position that LDAs should be grandfathered in the new program without additional educational requirements. However, a very serious catch is that we do not want to be limited in the areas of practice, as currently we operate in almost any area we want.
To this end, during the public comment period, Richard Lubetzsky asked the Working Group these questions:
1. Do they intend for this new program to coexist with the LDA statute? This would probably be a good development for us, if LDAs are grandfathered. The catch is what practice areas are allowed.
2. Or do they really intend for this to replace the LDA statute? Again, it depends what practice areas are allowed. The last thing we want is to be limited in what we are able to do.
They did not provide entirely straight answers to his questions. Rather, they indicated that the question of coexistence wasn’t on their minds much by saying “Well, the Legislature created you, so it’s not up to us.” We know that is not correct, and Richard pressed them a bit, reminding them that the Legislature was merely codifying the court’s holding in the Landlords case when enacting B&P 6400.
Now that we have additional information after attending two of the three sessions, we’re working on our position as we speak. We are listening closely to all these aspects of the discussions, and we’re consulting a lot with Richard Lubetzsky, as he obviously has over 25 years of experience on these matters and is the leading authority on it all. I’m speaking to him almost daily, actually, on one legislative issue or another, especially this one.
I’ve also gotten a great deal of input from the membership. We’ll keep it up, and I’ll keep informing you with these updates. Please continue sending input to email@example.com. We find it very helpful.
Also — I’ll send out other legislative updates (unrelated to limited licensing) later over the weekend.
Here is a recap of yesterday’s meeting of the State Bar’s working group on creating of the Limited License Legal Technician.
It was very interesting — I am most impressed by how remarkably receptive they are to this whole idea. It’s important to keep in mind that they are the ones who brought up this discussion. No one is making them do this, and it’s a completely voluntary effort on their part. One can wonder about their motives, but the fact is, they are doing it.
One of the members of the Bar’s Working Group reported that they are getting a huge amount of flak from lawyers who are incredibly unhappy at the prospect of a small part of their monopoly on legal advice being broken. However, despite the flak they are receiving, this Working Group is trudging ahead anyway, at a noticeably quick pace. This “working group” is not empowered to make any actual policy changes or substantive changes to laws or procedures, but surely its recommendations will carry some weight with the full committee.
The first part of the day consisted of a very detailed discussion of Washington’s program from none other than their Bar Association’s executive director. She was very impressive, and she detailed the history, formation, and planned direction of that program. In Washington, a “Limited License Legal Technician” is able to dispense limited forms of legal advice. An LLLT can select forms, advise about rights, and interpret documents for clients. I would encourage you to read the rule that created the program by clicking here so that you can all become familiar with it, because the California Bar is using this as their inspiration for the program here. You can find it here: http://www.courts.wa.gov/content/publicUpload/Press%20Releases/25700-A-1005.pdf. Currently Washington program only covers family law, but they intend to expand it to estate planning and landlord/tenant. They considered immigration and decided against including that in their program.
Next there was a report from a lawyer who specializes in health care law. In particular, he was an expert on the role of Physicians Assistants and their interaction with the Doctors to whom they report. I think you may be able to presume what they are thinking by inviting the obvious analogy of doctors/physicians assistants and lawyers/paralegals). Now apply that analogy to the current proposal being discussed and you can see where they might be going with that. But more on that in a little bit.
Next there was a presentation from a chief person from the Law Society of Ontario (analogous to our state’s Bar Association). This was, surprisingly, incredibly relevant to our own situation here. Before implementing their program, Ontario had an incredibly large number of independent paralegals who performed work for self-represented individuals. Oddly, Ontario also did not bar anyone from appearing in court on behalf of another. A few years ago the provincial government decided that this class of professionals needed to be regulated in order to ensure quality service delivery, so it enacted a program very much like the one being discussed right now. The most meaningful part of this discussion was the detailed way in which they grandfathered the existing service providers into the new regulation regime. There was a lot of energy put on this part of her presentation.
The comments made by the members of the working group throughout the proceedings were very interesting. Here’s a quick rundown of what I perceive is going on:
Their main motivation is that they have observed that demographics are NOT on their side. The workforce of lawyers in this state is rapidly aging, and before we know it, there will be far fewer of them. In the current paradigm, this is a terrible trend, because having fewer lawyers means that legal services will become even more expensive than they are already. This subject dominated the first part of the presentation from the Washington representative, and I believe it is forefront on the California members’ minds. This is important because it shows that a large part of what they are thinking deals with entirely their own internal concerns (rather than external ones such as access to justice or us).
They actually care about increasing access to justice. They know that access is denied to most people in this state, and they want to do something about it. Don’t think I’m all Pollyanna about this — their motives may be mostly self-serving and only slightly altruistic (i.e. if they don’t do it, then it will get done by someone else), but that doesn’t matter in my mind. The fact is that they know that past efforts to bring access to justice to the under-served (80% of the people of this state) have failed miserably, and something must be done about it. We need to look past their motivations and focus on the goal.
They know who we are and, for the most part, they seem to like us. I’m talking about the new generation of lawyers who are wresting control of the State Bar away from the Old Guard of good ‘ole boys that we’ve known in the past. Many of the warriors in our group who bear scars from battles fought in the past may have trouble believing this, but these last few years of detente have caused the State Bar to consider us worthy of their friendship. Many of them (including the Deputy Executive Director) told us how much they admired us for so willingly submitting to voluntary regulation (by actively promoting CALDA and its code of ethics, which is an entirely voluntary activity and not imposed by any governmental authority). More importantly, the younger members of their group no longer see us as a threat. They know that we are helping people who would not go to them in the first place, and therefore we are no longer perceived as competition. The detente of the last decade is, in my opinion, leading to an era of future cooperation and, dare I say, friendship with the State Bar. When I say this, I am talking about the State Bar leadership itself, (not the general rank and file of lawyers in the workforce).
Does this mean we should be naive and not watch our backs? Of course not. We must always be vigilant and aware of the darker forces within their ranks. But we should also be open to new friendships and new opportunities, even with old adversaries.
This is very important: There are a couple different camps within the Working Group. Some of its members believe that the new limited license technician should work under some level of lawyer supervision. My opinion is that including any bit of lawyer supervision in this program would utterly ruin it and make it an entirely wasted effort. I was dismayed nearly to the point of leaving early until I realized that this voice was not a consensus view amongst the Working Group’s members. A strong divergent voice is obviously present: 1) In direct response to the idea of lawyer supervision, the Washington representative stated that including attorney supervision in any new program would be “pointless”, and 2) I could tell that at least half of the Working Group’s members obviously agreed with her “no lawyer supervision” point of view.
This is the most interesting and fluid part of the discussion. My opinion is that the members who want attorney supervision are less into leaving their “comfort zone” than the members who want a bolder program. Our job is to make sure that the program that is created jumps as far away from the Bar’s comfort zone as possible.
There is an air of inevitability to this proposal (at least at this Working Group level — who knows what the full Board of Trustees will do with it). But it does seem like SOMETHING is going to be done. The degree of what will be implemented is the thing in play. Whether the Bar’s consensus is brave enough to make it big and substantive (and therefore helpful from an access to justice standpoint) or so nervous that they will create a program that is light, fluffy, and meaningless remains to be seen.
The last agenda item was from Robert Hawley, deputy director of the California Bar, who went through a discussion of the past efforts by the California Bar to license non-attorneys in the 80s and 90s. He mentioned a particular a report from 1990 that was the “road map” to creating a new program today that is nearly identical to Washington’s program. This is the guide I believe they will use to move forward. When it is scanned, I’ll post it to the Forums so that everyone can take a look at it.
The last part of the day was comment from the public, which was where I gave testimony on behalf of CALDA and, as their only mouthpiece, on behalf of all of the registered Legal Document Assistants in the state.
During my own comments, I asked the Group a few questions, as follows:
- Does the Working Group envision that the proposal being discussed today will replace the existing LDA statute, or will this new program coexist with the statute?
- If the current statute is replaced, what will the mechanism be for “re-registration” of the current practicing workforce of LDAs? In other words, will it be straightforward for an existing registered LDA to be grandfathered into the new program assuming certain requirements are met?
- If the new program will co-exist with the current LDA statute, would an LDA be able to move from one program to the other program? This is pertinent because, while the Washington program apparently provides only for family law services, many California LDAs provide an array of other services, and the last thing we want is to be limited in areas where we currently operate.
- I provided a comment after hearing about the view on attorney supervision. I encouraged them to continue moving outside their comfort zones. I also asked them to ask themselves where they would envision such services being delivered. Think about it — if attorney supervision is needed, where would that happen? In a law office, that’s where! That would be entirely pointless, and the program would be “safe” and forgettable. At this point, many of the Working Group members gave enthusiastic nods of approval — in other words, many of them get it.
The Working Group clearly indicated that we would receive answers to these questions. At that juncture, we will have a much better idea of what they are thinking.
As these proceedings continue, please be assured that we will attend every meeting and provide meaningful comment — and I do think that we will have an impact on shaping this proposal. Your interests are forefront in my mind, and as we participate in these proceedings our first priority is to advocate for the rights and continued opportunities of our members.
Incidentally, all of the materials from the meeting will be available electronically soon, and when they are, I will post them to the forums.
CALDA’s Spring Seminar will be in the beautiful Napa Valley. Our special guest will be Kerry Spence, who is the newest addition to CALDA’s Advisory Council.
Date: Saturday, 4/27/2013
Location: Napa Elks Lodge #832, 2840 Soscal Avenue, Napa, CA 94558
Cost: $80 now. $100 after April 13.
9:00a.m. to 10:30a.m.
Elder Financial Abuse and Estate Planning Practice: Judge Joyce Cram (retired)
ESTATE PLANNING AND FAMILY LAW ISSUES FOR SAME SEX COUPLES: Domestic Partner and Same Sex Couples: BJ Fadem, Esq.
12:15p.m.to 1:15p.m. LUNCH, with Keynote Address
KERRY SPENCE, LDA will present Mindful Connection: A New Vision for the Client/LDA Relationship.
1:15p.m. to 2:30p.m.
FAMILY LAW: Default Judgments: Carla Sprugasci, Santa Clara County Court
2:45p.m. to 3:45p.m.
DEEDS, DEEDS, DEEDS: CALDA President Ian Duncan
More information on the classes is on the registration form: http://www.calda.org/Files/CALDA_2013_NAPA_SEMINAR.pdf
CALDA is working hard to make the 2013 conference unforgettable! We will be offering MCLE approved workshops. This will be your opportunity to explore new subject matters, get up to date information as to what is happening with the legislative concerning our profession. Plus, you will have the opportunity to network with other LDA’s building new relationships, catching up with old friends and sharing your accomplishments and challenges with others who understand your challenges and experiences.
This year we will present a payment plan so that attending the conference will be more accessible for you. This is your avenue to keep up with the latest news and seek out topics you may be considering adding to your business. Take advantage of the opportunity.
Don’t even entertain not coming; it is an investment in your business. So get ready and save the date.
More information coming soon!
Stay connected to the CALDA website at www.calda.org
On Wednesday, March 6, I attended the regular meeting of the State Bar Board of Trustees along with Carol Ludlow and Terri O’Connor from CALDA, and Kerry Spence from CELA (Cost Effective Legal Access). CAPA (California Alliance of Paralegal Associations) was also represented at the meeting. The Bar voted to authorize one of its committees to study the creation of the “Limited License Legal Technician”, which would be authorized to dispense limited forms of legal advice.
I attended in order to represent CALDA and to provide public comment on this proposal. As we already knew would be the case, nothing was actually implemented on Wednesday’s meeting, as the action taken at this meeting was only to authorize the study of this concept. However I believe it’s extremely important that CALDA is represented each and every time the State Bar discusses this proposal. They were actually rather surprised to see us, I’m somewhat tickled to say,and I think that our comments helped set the tone for the discussion and debate that will surely ensue.
As I’ve reported before, you can be assured that CALDA will follow these developments closely and will participate vigorously in the coming proceedings. I have attached a follow-up letter to this email that summarizes the comments I made at the meeting.
LETTER SENT TO PATRICK KELLY – February 2013
President, State Bar of California
Wilson Elser LLP
555 South Flower Street, #2900
Los Angeles, CA 90071
February 1, 2013
I am the President of the California Association of Legal Document Assistants (CALDA), which is a statewide professional association of Legal Document Assistants (LDAs). LDAs have practiced under Business and Professions Code Section 6400 et seq. since the law was enacted in 2000, and their primary mission is to assist a person who is representing himself or herself in a legal matter. This organization was formerly known as CAIP, the California Association of Independent Paralegals.
CALDA’s mission is providing continuing educational opportunities to its members, and advancing access to justice for all Californians. Past CALDA seminars and conferences have featured a number of prominent family law judicial officers, attorneys, and other court staff including Justice Butz, Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, who is very familiar with and understands the importance of our profession. We also have two bench officers on our advisory board, Judge Juhas (also from the Elkins Implementation Task Force) from Los Angeles County, and Commissioner Vogl from Orange County.
The judicial branch is struggling with massive funding cuts, yet it is also mandated by the court around the Elkins decision to assist self-represented litigants through the maze of family law forms and procedures. LDAs seem especially positioned to assist with this crisis of access. LDAs are trained in the preparation of legal documents, and CALDA members in particular are subject to continuing educational requirements to enhance and update their skills. In particular, CALDA members are required to earn MCLE credits every year on the topic of Unauthorized Practice of Law. In compliance with laws limiting an LDA’s ability to give legal advice to clients, CALDA has created an attorney referral program wherein attorneys are available to facilitate answers to legal question for CALDA member clients. Further, if any such consultation proves the matter to be in need of further attorney participation, the referral can be made at that time.
I would like to begin a dialog with the State Bar regarding working together to further enhance legal access for Californians. Working together, our organizations can look at existing laws and procedures regarding self- represented litigants, how we are currently serving them, and what we can do to better serve them.
In particular, I observed a recent Daily Journal article describing that the State Bar is studying creating a program similar to those recently enacted in Arizona and Washington. This is an especially exciting proposal, as many in our organization believe that changes are needed in existing law in order to modernize the self-help industry and to better protect consumers. As LDAs comprise the workforce, I am very eager to work with the Bar on studying such a concept.
Working in conjunction with the State Bar, I firmly believe that we can create a program for California that enhances legal access for all while protecting the important rights of consumers.
I am eager to speak with you regarding these matters. You may reach me at (510) 452-2320, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ian M. Duncan
President, California Association of Legal Documents
By Elizabeth Fleischer
CALDA Fundraising Chair
The annual conference held at the Hyatt in Sacramento was a great success in the fundraising department!! We had several vendors whose services ranged from Forms software (Bob Kehn From Essential Forms) and bankruptcy counseling (Lisa Greenfield from Consumer Bankruptcy Counseling) to Attorneys (Paula Grohs from Forensicworx) who is now a part of the newly formed Elias Referral Network. And we had Clifford Wiens from Pennbrook Insurance, who provides LDA bonds among other insurance products. They showcased their products and services to all in attendance and were able to make some great contacts. Also at the fundraising table, there were many products for sale that went like hotcakes!! And what a great success that was!!
And that is not all, those items sold among others to be added, will now be put on the CALDA website for sale!! Those in attendance at the conference got first pick, and now our items will be available to those who could not make it to the annual conference this year. Our items will also be showcased at the upcoming Legal Secretaries Incorporated (LSI) conference at our vendor table at their conference.
If anyone has any ideas for vendors and/or other products we could sell for upcoming seminars and conferences, please do not hesitate to contact me.
By Debra I. Hollis
Professional Standards Chairperson
I was lucky enough to be able to attend the annual conference in Sacramento October 19-21. What a great conference! We had Judges, attorneys, Court specialists and fellow CALDA members as speakers. I managed to attend most of the classes while still helping with registration, among other things.
The classes gave us ideas on how to make our business grow. We were told what judgment clerks at the Court look for. We listened to family law from an attorney’s perspective, learned estate planning for domestic partners and so much more.
Marty Omoto was our keynote speaker and he was very enthusiastic and had great ideas to help our profession. Lois Isenberg talked to us about the history of LDAs, which was so interesting. I have always had so much admiration and respect for those who “fought the fight” so that we could have the right to do what we do today, but even more so now after hearing an account of those tough times from Lois. Thank you Lois!
Connie Crockett put together a very moving video honoring Steve Elias, which brought most of us to tears. He and Catherine were missed so very much at the conference this year. It just wasn’t the same without them.
Richard Lubetzky’s class on Sunday morning was certainly eye opening. He had a young lady come speak to us about her battle when she was accused of UPL. Nothing like hearing it first hand to make you come home and review what you do, to be sure that doesn’t happen to you. And who can forget our president, Ian Duncan role-playing with Terri McCracken, one of the attorneys on our advisory board, as well as one of the speakers, about the right and wrong way to talk with our customers. Terri’s portrayal of a customer was hilarious!
Commissioner Oleon, from Alameda County closed our conference with a very entertaining, interesting and helpful class. He spoke at our Spring Seminar this past year in Foster City and we all loved him. After that seminar he graciously offered to come to the conference and speak. We are so grateful for people like him, who are so supportive of LDAs. I know I haven’t mentioned all of the classes or speakers, but they were all INCREDIBLE!
The food at the Hyatt Sacramento was amazing! The staff couldn’t have been nicer. And the rooms were beautiful. Networking with others, putting faces to those we talk to or see on the forum was great! So many fellow board members worked very hard to make sure that the conference came off without a hitch.
I hope after reading this article, everyone will be so excited that we will all start now saving our money, in hopes of attending the next conference, being held October 25-27, 2013. We have already begun the planning. Be sure to keep an eye on our website for information.
This past weekend, CALDA had a great conference, held in Sacramento. Wonderful speakers, good food and networking made the weekend exciting. Our newly installed board is excited about the coming year. Board meetings are open to the membership and have been scheduled for the following dates and locations:
January 19, 2013 in Hayward
April 27, 2013 in Hayward
August 17, 2013 in Ontario
October 24, 2013 (Southern California; exact location to be determined)
To see more pictures, visit our Facebook page.
This year, CALDA offered three scholarships to the annual conference being held in Sacramento in October. As chairperson of the committee to select recipients of those scholarships, I asked Maureen McCready and Carol Ludlow to join me in reviewing all essays submitted.
We received several essays. They were all so well written and a couple of them were very inspiring. Each one was deserving of a scholarship. But alas, we could only choose three. We want to thank each of you who submitted an essay.
It is my pleasure to announce the recipients of this year’s scholarships:
Susan C. Volpe, recipient of the “Thomas F. Manning, Jr.” scholarship
Malaika Best, recipient of the “Kathy Ricci” scholarship
Krystynne Kemp, recipient of the “Catherine Elias” scholarship
Congratulations to each one of you. Be sure to register for the conference. We are looking forward to meeting you there and putting faces to the essays that we read.
See you in Sacramento!
Debra I. Hollis
Professional Standards Chairperson