California Bar Journal
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California Bar Journal

The State Bar of California


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Front Page - November 2001
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News / News Briefs
Applicants sought to oversee bar's diversion program
Let's have another cup of - legal advice
Foundation leads students to capital
Six honored for professional service
Warwick, six others named to California Judicial Council
Several thousand lawyers suspended for failing to pay dues, certify MCLE
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Trials Digest
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From the President - Remembering the fallen
The rule of law is our strongest weapon
Pro bono work is lawyers' duty
Letters to the Editor
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Law Practice - Success: The top eight requirements
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You Need to Know
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MCLE Self-Study
Planning for education expenses
Self-Assessment Test
MCLE Calendar of Events
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Ethics Byte - Lawyers move on in usual way despite disaster
Former city councilman spent his son's settlement
Attorney Discipline
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Public Comment
Let's have another cup of - legal advice
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Staff Writer
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Jeffrey Hughes likes to serve a bit of legal advice with his coffeeLegal Grind Café owner Jeffrey Hughes likes comparing his coffee-and-counsel concept to the visions of showman P.T. Barnum, banker A. P. Giannini and even pornographer Larry Flynt. Just don't compare him to those hot dog guys in Van Nuys.

Sure, the Law Dogs hot dog stand was there first, with attorneys dispensing foot-longs and free advice on Wednesday nights. Both establishments serve the Los Angeles area, and both ply customers with food and drink.

But the 35-year-old Santa Monica attorney maintains there really is no comparison: While Law Dogs' six stands have whittled down to a single location, Legal Grind is moving up and out with an annex and a newly added second store. And Legal Grind doesn't give advice away - it pairs customers with attorneys for $25 consultations and a menu of lower-cost, bundled or unbundled services.

"Hustler Hollywood - compare me to that," Hughes said, referring to Flynt's Sunset Boulevard coffee bar/adult entertainment store. "We're both combining coffee and services. Same principle."

A neighborhood hangout, self-help center and licensed legal referral service, Hughes' hybrid café received this year's Louis M. Brown Award for legal access from the American Bar Association, which honors innovations in the field. It is the L.A. native's contribution to both community and capitalism.

"We're for-profit legal aid," he said. "Philanthropy only goes so far. If you really want something to take root on a massive level, you know, capitalism works."

Like Barnum, Hughes has an appetite for publicity and a proclivity for self-promotion. He has been featured in more than 50 publications, television segments and radio spots since Legal Grind opened in 1996.

He says the café "captured the public's imagination" and has long contended that both Court TV's now-defunct "Legal Café" and NBC sitcom "Ed" - which features a bowling-alley owner who dispenses legal advice - are based on Legal Grind.

Like Giannini, Hughes has an affinity for the working class and says he hopes to do for legal access what the San Francisco banker did for the industry after the 1906 earthquake. The Bank of Italy owner is credited with jump-starting the city's rebuild, setting up shop on a dock and writing loans so that small businesses and homeowners could start over. He is considered the pioneer of installment credit.

To get where Hughes is coming from, though, it is also necessary to know that by the time of Giannini's death, the Bank of Italy had become Bank of America, the country's largest.

Hughes recently finalized the contract for Legal Grind's second location, a store in Inglewood that already is open for business. He is looking to partner with other attorneys for joint ventures; he is also calling every state to check policies regarding for-profit legal referral.

"We're ready to go statewide," Hughes said, then after a beat: "Nationwide."

Hughes said Legal Grind's first store outside California will be in Cincinnati. He also is working on setting up shops in Portland, Ore., Las Vegas and New York. In every location, Hughes hopes to hire staff and attorneys who live in the neighborhood, speak its predominant languages and understand the issues unique to residents.

Hughes dreamed as a teen-ager of opening a café, one he says  "would be important and get publicity." After graduating from Loyola Law School and gaining bar admission in 1992, Hughes took a job at a traditional law firm in San Francisco but was laid off before he started when a client fell through.

He returned to Santa Monica, took out $20,000 in credit and opened shop on Lincoln Boulevard in a former awning store his grandfather owned. Not everyone, at first, thought it was the best business plan.

"I thought it was an interesting idea in terms of helping people get access to a lawyer, but I didn't know if he could make a go of it financially," said Bryan Hull, one of Hughes' Loyola professors.

Hull now says he believes the idea was a natural.

"In a coffeehouse, people sit around and have coffee and talk," Hull said. "It makes sense to have a lawyer sitting in."

At Legal Grind, private practitioners offer legal services in criminal matters, landlord/tenant disputes, small claims, divorce, bankruptcy, family law and more. Customers can shop for attorneys based on specialty and cost.

"We're kind of a wading pool. You come here and it's friendly; there are many alternatives to choose from," Hughes said.

Legal Grind gets referral fees for its part in uniting counsel and client. In August, the store received its highest fee ever - more than $40,000 - after a sexual assault case settled for close to $500,000.

Milton Simon is both a customer and an attorney who doesn't always take referrals but pinch hits for the café in real estate and criminal law. He has practiced for 25 years, he says, but hasn't raised his fees in 10.

"Because it's a neighborhood store, people get to know the place. Not everyone's having a problem - they come in for a cup of coffee," Simon said.

"But it's a real service for the clients because most of them can't afford a $200 consultation."