California Bar Journal
spacer.gif (810 bytes)


spacer.gif (810 bytes)


spacer.gif (810 bytes)

DAs need to stop unauthorized law practice

I read with interest Kenneth Fong’s article entitled “The battle against UPL” (May Bar Journal). Unfortunately, it is not limited to immigration law. I practice family law as well as real estate and business litigation and regularly see the unauthorized practice of law. In family law, there are large numbers of paralegals who bill themselves as “certified paralegals,” “ABA-approved & certified” or “Member: CA Association of Independent Paralegals.”

These individuals claim not to be practicing law but the reality is that they are advising clients on how to divide property, get custody and calculate support. They also draft settlement agreements and fill out the necessary family forms.

Do these individuals understand how to divide retirement plans or when and how to calculate support based on imputed income or any of the other issues that regularly come the way of experienced family law attorneys? How many clients give up too much in their property division or get too little support because of poor advice?

Fortunately, in family law there is a viable alternative to UPL. Most areas have voluntary legal services operated by professionals that offer attorney services at little or no cost.

Local DA offices need to step up the prosecution of unauthorized practice of law. At least they need to do so in my county.

Ann Marie DeDie
Walnut Creek

Alcoholism, drug abuse warrant diversion

Having read Mike Landon’s and Irene Haynie’s letters (May), I can only wonder what form of “substance abuse” MCLE they are attending.

Both alcoholism and drug addiction are recognized diseases. No one who is recovering from these diseases expects their conduct — especially if it involves misappropriation of client funds — to be labeled anything short of “reprehensible.” However, it is important and appropriate for the State Bar to consider this disease a “mitigating circumstance” when it comes to the imposition of discipline.

The State Bar, if anything, is far behind the progress of other professions in dealing with the disease of alcoholism and drug addiction. Most professional regulatory groups have a system of “diversion” for dealing with their members who would otherwise be subject to discipline for conduct that results from their disease. I am not suggesting that the conduct be excused, but that the cause for such conduct be treated. This requires an understanding of the disease and at least some modicum of compassion from our profession.

The bar’s recognition of this disease as a “mitigating circumstance” should not be criticized for leniency. Rather, the bar should be criticized for its failure to institute a diversion program for its members who suffer this disease.

The State Bar provides a Lawyers Personal Assistance Program. For information, see page 27.

The bar as a mutual protection society

Once again we see the State Bar’s inability, or unwillingness, to seriously discipline attorney misconduct. Why wasn’t Mr. Basinger (March Discipline section) in jail for stealing $260,000? Will we give him a third bite at the apple after this?

Then (in April) there are additional examples: an attorney with what appears to be a $60,000 misappropriation of client funds disbarred, but criminal charges dismissed; an attorney disbarred for failure to pay dues; an attorney misusing process and civil authorities against clients, theft and filing frivolous and vexatious suits (a noteworthy finding in itself for its rarity) receives only probation and a stayed suspension.

Discipline, indeed; no wonder the public sees the bar as a lawyer mutual protection society. Serious crimes and fraud against clients rate only suspensions. At least the bar takes a hard line with those most degenerate of all social pariahs — those failing to pay bar dues.

In reference to jail and criminal charges being dismissed, the bar cannot try anyone in a criminal court.

Still assessing the blame

Thank you for reprinting the L.A. Times editorial, entitled “Easy to destroy, hard to rebuild” (April Bar Journal). In gleefully taking the opportunity to make another of its tiring, unfair attacks against the former governor of California, the Times grossly misdirected its criticism.

It should be quite clear, by now, that the blame for the destruction of the State Bar rests not with those who desired to reform it, but with the administrators who resisted reform by insisting on using bar funds to support a liberal political agenda, against the will of perhaps more than half of its dues-paying members.

Bob Kohn
Pebble Beach

CBJ: Nothing all ’round

It’s my opinion that such an article (the L.A. Times editorial) explains why a large minority of lawyers dislike the State Bar and wish it terminated.

The article is very positive about continuing the bar association. It uses derogatory language in referring to then-Gov. Wilson. On the contrary, the language used praises the action taken by Gov. Davis.

I hope our dues do not pay anything toward the articles, printing, publication or distribution of the official publication of the State Bar of California. It is not worth anything to me.

Andrew J. Davis
Los Angeles

And it costs you nothing.

High salaries for select few

In the April Bar Journal, Andrew Guilford expresses his concern about the high salaries of starting associates and how there must be a link between salary and service. What he does not mention is that most new lawyers still have a tough time landing their first job, and starting salaries for most new lawyers fall somewhere between $40K - $80K, depending upon the position and the firm. It is only a select few from the top law schools that earn $150K in the big firms.

When the economy was soft in the mid-1990s, and young lawyers were working as temporary clericals, there was not much concern voiced by the profession.


California Bar Journal invites its readers to send letters on any topic. All letters must be signed with a daytime telephone number and complete address. All letters are subject to editing, and no anonymous letters will be printed. Send letters to Editor, California Bar Journal, 180 Howard St., San Francisco, CA 94105-1639; fax to 415/538-2247; or e-mail: