Thursday, April 24, 2008

Attorney Supervised or ROGUE?

When Will Something Be Done?

Every time legal document assistants join together the subject of illegal document preparers is discussed and at length. They are everywhere, people advertising as paralegals offering skills such as drafting legal memoranda with "guaranteed results." The ads scream "Low Cost!!!" across the page - "Divorce, Custody, Wills" - the list varies, the words often misspelled "Judgement (sic) Collection!" CraigsList is one of the most common venues for these illegal advertisements, the PennySaver another. Even the telephone directories contain listing after listing, down the page, paralegals selling services to consumers.

This is not even the worst of it, there's the clerk who works in the legal department of the DMV who calls himself a paralegal and sells his "paralegal" services to "help" his community - the non-English speaking immigrants. This guy has no idea what he is doing and has a whole drawer of files with one-third completed divorces that will never be finalized. The people will never know that their files languished and that they are not divorced.

And almost in every city where there is a courthouse there is an "Everytown Paralegal." This is an office close to mine -- and yours -- that sells legal documents to consumers. Everytown advertises in all the directories and has been around for years. It is a sole proprietorship owned by a "paralegal." Everytown's letterhead contains the name of the "supervising attorney" which would appear to be legit, however, in my particular case the attorney is not a licensed attorney and is in fact, inactive; and, my particular Everytown has mucked up one family law matter so much that now the lady who is now paying me to prepare her documents has to spend an additional $360 in filing fees alone to correct Everytown's mistakes. The filing fees for her dissolution of marriage, $720 total - for her uncontested dissolution!

There is the illegal (unregistered/unbonded) Immigration Consultant working out of a closet in an economically depressed area of town, taking cash from people without providing contracts or receipts and possessing their birth certificates, marriage certificates, and other personal and private documents and information. Immigration fraud is prevelent thoughout the immigrant community. The serious nature of the process, and the private information required to process these types of documents creates a situation where people can be seriously harmed.

I could go on and on. I have heard so many stories from legitimate legal document assistants and it is sad but true, when we all get together the main topic is stopping the illegals - what can be done? These unregistered rogues are taking advantage of the undereducated, less fortunate, unwary souls who really need appropriate assistance, not more worries. Illegal document preparers harm our profession. They make us all look bad. Once a client has a bad experience, they are not going to differentiate between a legitimate legal document preparer and a rogue - they will think we all must be bad.

Paralegals should know the California Codes and should also be aware of the California statutes concerning the paralegal profession. Any paralegal advertising and selling legal services to consumers is an unregistered legal document rogue - not a paralegal. Under California law paralegals can only work under the direct supervision of a licensed attorney. Paralegals cannot provide their services directly to consumers.

California's current legislation defines the profession of a legal document assistant, immigration consultant and paralegal. The provisions contain the requirements, processes, and punishments for violations. The legislative implementation of consumer protections at present seemingly serve only to protect the consumer from LDAs who are compliant with the laws and who maintain compliance. The consumer protections are listed in the LDA contract which is in turn provided to the client by complying LDAs. Rogues have no use for consumer protections such as posting bonds and registering, providing contracts and receipts. Rogues are free from the expense and time it takes to become legitimate and will continue to harm the public until the government takes necessary action by appointing a governing body to enforce the laws and eliminate rogue legal document preparers.


Anonymous said...

I loved this article. We need to speak out about rogues whenever we can.

Anonymous said...

Wow, it is about time! Everybody complains and nobody does anything about this type of fraud. I have a friend who came over after hiring a guy to do her immigration papers. She said she felt funny because he wasnt really set up in his office with no business cards and because he didn't give her a receipt for her check. We looked up the rules on the internet and found out that he had broken the law. We called him and asked for his registration number because the law said he had to have one. He said he didn't because he was attorney supervised. So we asked the name of the attorney and called the attorney. The attorney was retired, living in a different state and was dying of cancer. He had met the guy but never worked with him and was not his supervisor. We called and told him that he better return the money she paid him and he agreed. He had her birth certicate too, having kept it after she met with him. Like Ms. Mountjoy says in the article, my friend found him in the Pennysaver newspaper. I think she ratted him out to the district attorney or maybe it was the attorney general - I can't remember but she showed me her complaint she signed before she sent it out. After I read this article I hope she sent her complaint in and he is no longer taking advantage of people like my friend.

I think the problem is that people don't know about the laws and are then easily taken advantage of. I see where people who have limited english could be really hurt by these types of frauds.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the interesting article. I'm a newly-minted paralegal (just finished my certification at Roosevelt University, Chicago, IL, in January.) One of the best aspects of our program was how well we were taught the seriousness of UPL. Your article is an excellent reminder.

Anonymous said...

In the free market, the buyer is supposed to beware. Whatever happened to old fashioned common sense.

Kat said...

The old fashioned adage of "Let the Buyer Beware" is just that: Old fashioned anti-consumerism. Our lawmakers created laws to protect citizens from those who would otherwise steal, lie and harm others. Who would you chose to give your hard earned dollars - the legitimate business person or the rogue who lacks integrity and violates the laws?