Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Further Discussions with DCC Baker on AB 590

Suzanne and Mr. Baker discussed AB 590 and the provision of self-help legal services this afternoon. Baker, not having had a chance to review Saturday's correspondence, requested further clarification which we have provided below, for your information. ALDAP continues to work directly with Baker to ensure California's legal document assistants - and other professionals - continue to provide the self-help services authorized under 6400 et seq.

"Dear Mr. Baker:

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me this afternoon. Attached is a copy of the letter Kat sent on Saturday, directed to Assemblyman Feuer, as that is the only email address she had. As I mentioned on the phone and as stated in the attached letter, we would like to ensure that the proposed exception to 6159.52 is not crafted so narrowly that it impedes the efficient provision of self-help legal services from a variety of providers, including LDAs, UDAs, Bankruptcy Petition Preparers (regulated under 11 USC §110) and others who may lawfully offer self help legal services to consumers.

As the law currently stands, consumers generally have five options, which range from extremely costly to free-of-charge: 1) attorney representation; 2) self-help services provided by an attorney offering limited scope services; 3) self-help services provided by a registered legal document assistant; 4) no-cost legal aid through a non-profit organization, court clinic, or other agency; or 5) completely on their own with no assistance. It is not uncommon for a consumer to seek advice from an attorney, while retaining the services of a legal document assistant to prepare and process their paperwork. We recognize the Legislature’s desire to avoid crafting a broad exception to the proposed 6159.52, which could undermine the very purposes of AB 590. However, we also believe that the provision of unbundled services (limited scope representation) is an asset to consumers, and indeed the entire judicial system.

For more information about ALDAP’s position regarding these limited scope services provided by attorneys, please visit http://www.aldap.org/unbundled.htm. Presumably, there will be many consumers whose finances will preclude them from qualifying for the “legal aid” programs. Additionally, citizens taking advantage of the available legal aid services may face significant delays when demand is high.

A blanket prohibition on attorney assistance in the form of limited scope services within the “self help” context could put consumers in the unfortunate predicament of having to choose between the high cost of full attorney representation (which they cannot afford), or the pro bono services offered by the legal aid organization. We would like to ensure that the final language of AB 590 does not limit the choices of consumers, by eliminating the mid-range options – limited scope services from an attorney, or self-help services from a legal document assistant.

We propose the following language for your consideration as you draft the amendments we have discussed:

This chapter does not apply to any person engaged in any of the following occupations:

(a) A legal document assistant or unlawful detainer assistant, as defined in Chapter 5.5 (commencing with Section 6400) of Division 3.

(b) A person who provides services that are regulated by federal law.

(c) An immigration consultant, as defined in Chapter 19.5 (commencing with Section 22441) of Division 8.

(d) A person registered as a process server under Chapter 16 (commencing with Section 22350) or a person registered as a professional photocopier under Chapter 20 (commencing with Section 22450) of Division 8.

(e) A member of the State Bar of California, or his or her employee, paralegal, or agent, or an independent contractor while acting on behalf of a member of the State Bar, engaged in the provision of limited scope representation, or the provision of self help services, as defined in Chapter 5.5, section 6400(d), of Division 3.

On behalf of ALDAP and the clients we serve, I thank you very much for your time and consideration."

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