The State Bar of California accepts revised paraprofessional recommendations

At its meeting May 19–20, the State Bar Board of Trustees accepted final amendments to the recommendations of the California Paraprofessional Program Working Group (CPPWG).

Following a robust public comment period that generated more than 2,000 comments, approximately 70 percent from attorneys, the Working Group adjusted their initial proposal, including:

  • Eliminating the ability of paraprofessionals to jointly own a firm with attorneys;
  • Requiring paraprofessionals to provide detailed disclosures on practice limits and alternate resources, as well as contact information for legal services alternatives;
  • Excluding certain areas from paraprofessional practice, such as estate conservatorship and guardianship matters, and family law matters related to surrogate parentage;
  • Ensuring that no funding for the new program comes from funds used to support the State Bar’s discipline system; and
  • Requiring the State Bar to provide annual public disclosure of all entities funding the paraprofessional program.

 

The next step in moving the plan forward involves development of a proposal to be approved by the Board later this year, for the California Supreme Court’s review. Upon the Court’s authorization, the State Bar would then submit the program to the Legislature for review and approval.

Read the full story here.

The California Bar adopts new five year strategic plan

The Board of Trustees of the California State Bar Board of Trustees has agreed a new five year plan, setting the Bar’s strategic direction until 2027.

The plan includes four strategic goals:

  • Protect the Public by Strengthening the Attorney Discipline System: Administer an attorney discipline system that is efficient, accountable, and transparent.
  • Protect the Public by Enhancing Access to, and Inclusion in, the Legal System: Increase access to the legal system through public outreach and education, improve access to legal advice and services, and a legal profession that reflects the diversity of California.
  • Protect the Public by Regulating the Legal Profession: Promote the ethical and competent practice of law and prevent misconduct by providing education, resources, and support for the legal profession.
  • Protect the Public by Engaging Partners: Engage partners and stakeholders to enhance public protection and restore the State Bar’s credibility, reputation, and impact.

Read the full story here.

California State Bar publishes responses to its consultation on the licensing of a new paraprofessional.

In 2021 the California State Bar published a consultation on a potential new paraprofessional license designed to ease the access to justice problem being experienced in the state. This new type of legal paraprofessional is intended to be a cheaper alternative to a fully licensed lawyer and would only be able to offer a very restricted set of services.

The consultation has drawn a mixed response, with 800 of the reported 1,318 responses directly opposing the new license and a further 325 supporting modifications to the license as proposed. Much of this opposition came from attorneys, with 94% of this respondent group opposing the proposal. Interestingly, 87% of consumers who responded to the consultation supported the proposed new license.

Read the full article here.

State Bar of California’s consultation on new paraprofessional licence closes

The consultation, which closed on 12th January, focused on the potential licensing of a new legal service provider, the paraprofessional. It is hoped this new legal qualification will improve access to justice by creating a new professional to provide routine legal services at a more affordable rate.

Read the full article here.

California Bar launches access to justice consultation

The State Bar of California is seeking to solve the issue of access to justice many residents suffer given the high cost of legal services, by establishing a new paraprofessional. They estimate 85% of legal problems received no or inadequate help. It is hoped a new more affordable legal professional would go some way to mitigating this issue, which is faced not just in California but across the whole country.

This consultation with the public is aimed at informing them about what this paraprofessional would be, described as “to a lawyers what a nurse practitioner is to a doctor.” Members of the public are invited to feedback their thoughts until January 2022.

Read the full story here.

California Board of Trustees introduces new measures to improve the disciplinary system

At its July 23 meeting, the California State Bar Board of Trustees took steps to strengthen the discipline system in the state, these include establishing a special committee—the Committee on the Special Discipline Case Audit—to undertake an analysis into the disciplinary system in the state, with a particular focus on misappropriation of client funds. The Board also directed this new committee, chaired by Trustee José Cisneros, to work with staff to develop recommendations to strengthen regulation of attorney client trust accounts. As well as this the board recommended new regulations for implementation, focused on attorney ethics and discipline. These include:

  • Conducting proactive, random audits of attorney client trust accounts;
  • Requiring some or all attorneys to have their trust accounts regularly audited by Certified Public Accountants;
  • Requiring annual self-funded audits and reporting of client trust accounts;
  • Proposing new and amended statutes, State Bar rules, rules of professional conduct, and other rules governing attorney conduct as well as standards governing discipline for client trust account violations; and
  • Assessing technology and other tools that can be employed in this effort.

The Board expects to finalise a set of recommendations by the end of the year, and if implemented these changes would put California at the forefront of client fund protection in the USA. Boar Chair Sean SeLegue has said: “The Board’s actions today demonstrate resolve to identify and remedy shortcomings in our discipline system that impact the State Bar’s ability to carry out its public protection mission. That includes not only ensuring that attorney ethical violations are properly investigated and prosecuted but also innovative means of preventing misconduct and harm to the public from occurring in the first place.”

Read more about the recommendations here. 

State Bar of California publishes digital annual report

The State Bar of California has published its second digital annual report. The report was conceptualised following the significant changes in the legal industry brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, creating rapidly changing policy goals and public protection requirements.

Donna S. Hershkowitz, Interim Executive Director of the state bar had said “Despite the onset of the challenges brought on by the coronavirus, Californians deserve access to a legal system that serves them with integrity and fairness. The State Bar quickly adapted to ensure that our essential work protecting the public continued. The publication of this report is one of many initiatives we are undertaking to support our strategic goals of transparency, accountability, and proactive communication.”

The 2020 report highlights changes implemented by the State Bar to address the pandemic including:

  • The establishment of a fully remote call centre to maintain service to the public.
  • Shifting examinations to remote administration
  • The creation of a new licensing programme for law graduates to start practice before passing the bar exam
  • Transitioning the State Bar Court to remote proceedings
  • Distributing $11.75 million through the Client Security Fund.

Read the full report here.

 

California State Bar Board of Trustees approve updated law school accreditation rules

At its meeting on May 13, 2021, the California State Bar Board of Trustees adopted new accreditation rules for California accredited law schools. The new rules will come into effect on January 1st, 2022, with law schools required to demonstrate compliance by January 1, 2024, and are designed to incorporate best practices and provide a framework to recognise law schools that are accredited by regional or national accreditors. As well as these rules aim to focus accreditation on its essential purpose, rather than creating extraneous requirements.

Donna Hershkowitz, Interim Executive Director of the State Bar has said.“This effort is the latest example in the State Bar’s many efforts to broaden access to quality legal education in our diverse state. The new accreditation rules will ensure that law schools and the State Bar are focusing on what matters most to ensure positive student outcomes and ultimately support our efforts to protect the public.”

California is one of the few states in the USA that permits accreditation other than by the American Bar Association (ABA), and offers more separate pathways into qualification as a lawyer than any other state. Currently, nearly two dozen law schools are directly accredited by  the California Bar, with the goal of offering accessible, affordable, and flexible options for law students.

The revised rules further four key purposes for accreditation of California law schools:

  1. Consumer protection and transparency;
  2. Student success;
  3. Diversity, equity, and inclusion; and
  4. Preparation for licensure and professionalism.

The approval of the rules, which comes as a culmination of two years of work by the Committee of Bar Examiners and the Committee of State Bar Accredited and Registered Schools. The aim of the reforms is to create a clear, understandable public protection framework for accreditation in keeping with the State Bar’s mission. Each provision in the revamped rules describes a specific, measurable action designed to fulfill one or more of these purposes. Prior accreditation requirements that did not further any of these specific purposes were eliminated, and new requirements were added to ensure that schools are meeting these goals.

Read more about the Board of Trustees meeting here, or read the new rules here.

 

State Bar of California provides grants to twenty legal services organizations to hire provisionally licensed lawyers

The State Bar of California has selected the first 20 legal services organizations which will receive grants to hire provisionally licensed lawyers (PLLs) in 2021–2022. The grant-giving programme is designed to allow legal aid organisations to augment their staff, and is part of the Bar’s ongoing effort to address unmet legal need amongst low-income Californians, improving access to justice. The grant is funded by legislation that added an optional $5 donation, as part of the annual California attorney licensing fees.

Contributions are currently projected to total about $1.4 million in 2021–2022, and the awardees were selected by the Legal Services Trust Fund Commission as part of a competitive selection process. The average award is for 12 to 13 months. Of the PLLs to be hired, 17 will collectively serve 43 California counties, at least 30 of which are rural or have relatively few legal aid resources. Three PLLs will support services offered statewide. The majority are expected to help meet legal needs in rural areas and provide legal services related to COVID-19 or natural disasters.

The PLL programme was approved by the California Supreme Court in July 2020 in response to the pandemic, the provisional licensure program provides a limited license to practice law under the supervision of a licensed attorney. The program enabled recent law graduates to begin practice without taking a bar exam. To date, nearly 850 provisionally licensed lawyers have been approved for the program, which will terminate June 1, 2022, unless extended by the Court.

Donna Hershkowitz, Interim Executive Director of the State Bar has said.“These grants provide a powerful dual benefit: expanding the reach of these legal aid organizations when the needs are greater than ever and offering meaningful public interest jobs to new provisionally licensed lawyers. We are grateful to the thousands of licensees whose contributions made these grants possible.”

Read more about the programme and view all the organisations who received an award here. 

Stress, drink, leave: An examination of gender-specific risk factors for mental health problems and attrition among licensed attorneys

Abstract

Rates of mental illness and heavy alcohol use are exceedingly high in the legal profession, while attrition among women has also been a longstanding problem. Work overcommitment, work-family conflict, permissiveness toward alcohol in the workplace, and the likelihood of promotion are all implicated but have yet to be systematically investigated. Data were collected from 2,863 lawyers randomly sampled from the California Lawyers Association and D.C. Bar to address this knowledge gap. Findings indicated that the prevalence and severity of depression, anxiety, stress, and risky/hazardous drinking were significantly higher among women. Further, one-quarter of all women contemplated leaving the profession due to mental health concerns, compared to 17% of men. Logistic models were conducted to identify workplace factors predictive of stress, risky drinking, and contemplating leaving the profession. Overcommitment and permissiveness toward alcohol at work were associated with the highest likelihood of stress and risky drinking (relative to all other predictors) for both men and women. However, women and men differed with respect to predictors of leaving the profession due to stress or mental health. For women, work-family conflict was associated with the highest likelihood of leaving, while overcommitment was the number one predictor of leaving for men. Mental health and gender disparities are significant problems in the legal profession, clearly requiring considerable and sustained attention.

Anker J, Krill PR (2021) Stress, drink, leave: An examination of gender-specific risk factors for mental health problems and attrition among licensed attorneys. PLoS ONE 16(5): e0250563.

Available on PLOS ONE.