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Letters to the Editor

State Bar should have the power to crack down on unauthorized practice of law

In the article "State Bar to look at limited-practice licensing program," it is pointed out that the State Bar has no jurisdiction over unlicensed persons who practice law.

The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) now has jurisdiction over unlicensed contractors. Although the CSLB is not a criminal justice agency and cannot bring criminal charges against unlicensed contractors on its own, it can impose a civil penalty of between $200 and $15,000 on an unlicensed contractor (B&P 7028.7). Surely the State Bar should have similar powers.

Arnie Bell
La Mirada, Calif.

State Bar needs to protect the profession

As a member of the State Bar for 42 years, the limited licensing idea is a joke. In my years in practice, the State Bar has done nothing to protect lawyers in the practice of law by nonprofessionals. That has caused the slow eroding of the practice so that now the bar feels compelled to acquiesce. Let first-year lawyers do this work, like they always have. This is how they learn. We are lawyers and we have worked and studied hard to be what we are. It's about time that the State Bar begins protecting the profession.

Robert Pasquinelli
San Jose, Calif.

Attorneys, clients lose when non-attorneys practice law

A limited-licensing scheme for non-attorneys. Is the bar nuts? Each time the bar has looked the other way as non-licensed individuals practiced law, more and more severe problems kept occurring in the system. Just issuing a license does not stop or even reduce malpractice in any field. For decades the bar has ignored the unlawful practice of law, permitting deeper intrusions into the realm of attorneys, bringing harm to attorneys, the courts and more importantly, clients who are unable to discern what an attorney is anymore.

By the bar's refusal to push for legislation that increases the severity of criminal penalties and sentencing schemes for the unlawful practice of law, attorneys lose money. Each time an unlicensed individual practices law, it reduces the amount of income legitimate attorneys could otherwise earn. A ripple effect then occurs. As income shrinks, attorneys must charge more. And attorneys will then reduce, if not eliminate, pro-bono work. Another ill effect of permitting non-attorneys to tender legal advice is that the courts can get backlogged as attorneys try to undo the harm unlicensed individuals dispense to their "clients."

As in other licensed fields, if a license is required, a license should be mandated. If mandated, anyone not possessed of the required license who practices in that field is a criminal. No more parsing of definitions or inaction by the bar need occur if it truly has the best interests of clients and attorneys at heart.

Robert Daumiller
Crossville, Tenn.

Paralegal would appreciate limited licensing program

I enjoyed the article on limited-practice licensing. As you may know, numerous senior paralegals (large firms/corporate/in-house) have been providing just such services for years. I am now completing my 17th year as a senior litigation and research paralegal.

The only negative aspect is that the federal government made the decision to re-classify paralegals (no matter how advanced) to a nonexempt status for overtime purposes. This move stripped the paralegals of professional status, as the federal government does not recognize the paralegal as one who must have specific education/training to do the job. Additionally, as we must work under the direction of an attorney, we, in the government's eyes, do not work independently.

While there is nothing wrong with overtime pay, it is demeaning to have to comply with the rules imposed on the kids at burger stands making $7.50 per hour. Exempt status enabled us to have professional respect, and the freedom to come and go within reason. In other words, to be treated as professional adults. Moreover, when available, the bonus pool is 50-percent greater for exempt employees.

Many of us would appreciate a further look at limited licensing with the ability, as seasoned paralegals, to sit for the licensing exam based upon our educational background and professional history. Many of us would be happy simply to have back our exempt status.

Mary L. Dickinson
Rosemead, Calif.

Limited scope law practice would harm the legal profession

I note with concern the topic considered by the Board of Trustees at its recent retreat regarding licensing persons for the “limited” practice of law. From the perspective of solo and small firm practitioners, I have grave misgivings about the idea under consideration. 

While on the one hand, the ready availability of legal assistance through our family court facilitator programs has been of enormous help to self-represented people, it has had a really depressing effect on the income of attorneys. As Mr. Lincoln put it so well, an attorney’s time and advice is his (her) stock in trade. Why should folks pay for what they can get for free? The net effect is that the family law business of those with low or moderate incomes, which used to “pay the overhead,” simply isn’t seen by lawyers any more.

Creating a new class of semi-lawyers will act like Gresham’s law – good money drives out bad. On the whole, such advice is reasonably likely to be seen by the public as being as good as that from the “real” lawyer, and much less costly. Thus, an even more significant “chunk” of income will never enter a lawyer’s office. With something like 50 percent of recent law school graduates still looking for work after a year, how would such a development be remotely helpful to the lawyers who constitute and maintain the State Bar?

Given the recent changes in how our association is governed, such ideas are likely to become more frequent. Sadly, in my view, our profession has long been infected with a latent “noblesse oblige” guilt complex. Once we are licensed, we somehow owe a substantial amount of our “stock in trade” to those less fortunate, since, after all, the license to practice law is so inherently lucrative, that giving away some of our income will hardly be noticed. Would that it were so! I recall one survey of a year or two ago which found that the net income of attorneys who were not in government service, or with large firms, was well under $100,000 per year; to the point that most of them could not afford legal counsel themselves if confronted with a serious legal matter.

Attorneys, in my experience, are inclined to helpful and generous, not mere money-grubbers. They ought to be entitled to the active and benevolent attention of their own state association when it comes to simply making a decent living in accord with their training, and the innate and often extreme stress of this profession. Our current orientation seems to be that as we are all doing so well, we need to look for more opportunities to better serve the public at our own cost.

If we want to continue to attract the best and brightest into this profession, we ought to start thinking about keeping it as attractive as possible; there is lots of competition for the same sharp young minds coming out of our colleges and universities.

James V. Jones
Napa, Calif.

State Bar should scrutinize effect of limited-licensing on marginalized groups

I read with interest the article on limited-practice licensing.  The article interested me, in part, because I am the author of an academic study called "Lawyers and Immigrants: A Cultural History" (2003), originally written as a doctoral thesis at New York University.

I mention this because one of the aspects of creating another classification of legal professionals inside some hierarchy is that this classification will end up mirroring and driving other social classifications. So, for example, will members of historically marginalized groups such as African-Americans, immigrants, women and gays be particularly affected by this proposed scheme? One thinks of the U.S. Senate which only has two African-American members, out of 100, compared to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Indeed, whatever scheme the State Bar would possibly approve, of course, in time would also become subject to strict scrutiny, one would hope. These issues deserve further investigation and reporting to all the members of the State Bar.

Louis Anthes
Long Beach, Calif.

Retired attorneys could benefit from limited practice licensing

As a retired inactive attorney who is prevented from offering or providing legal advice to virtually anyone, I found your article on a limited license intriguing for those in my position. We have a lot of knowledge and know how to offer the public but no way to convey it unless we become active. If inactive attorneys were included in this limited practice group or some sort of pro bono exception, the public would benefit from our past experience and we would not have to concern ourselves with licensing issues, insurance, etc.

Todd Ison
Rancho Murieta, Calif.

Editor’s note: The Pro Bono Practice Program offers a way for retired attorneys or those taking a temporary break from active practice to help low-income Californians on a pro bono basis. Eligible participants receive a waiver of the active State Bar membership fee and other benefits.


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