|Horns are blowing outside the walls of the legal monopoly in California.
The walls, already riddled with large holes, may soon come down completely.
& Professions Code §6125 states that "no person shall practice law in California
unless the person is an active member of the State Bar," while §6126 makes it a
misdemeanor to practice law without being an active member of the State Bar. These
sections, enacted in 1939, create and protect the legal monopoly in California. Yet, as
members are aware, legal services in California today are provided by laypersons,
out-of-state attorneys and non-attorney-controlled corporations on a regular basis.
Greater inroads into the legal monopoly are being made every day.
Increasingly, it appears that the issue is not whether the legal monopoly will fall,
but when and how. Over time, the monopoly's walls have been undermined to the extent that
they are no longer secure against expected future assault. The following factors, some
old, some new, will result in ever-increasing pressure on the legal monopoly:
The large and continuing unmet need for legal services in
California, which the legal profession has been unwilling and/or unable to respond to
The explosion of independent legal technicians and
legal document assistants who are not legally permitted to "practice law" but,
under recent B&P Code §6400, are permitted to provide "self-help" legal
services to individuals representing themselves in legal matters.
The paucity of unauthorized practice of law
prosecutions in California which has emboldened those not licensed, allowing them to
practice law without meaningful risk of reprisal and providing them, in an adverse
possession sense, with a colorable claim to a piece of the legal monopoly.
The hostility of the bar membership to the State
Bar which, unfairly or not, has sent the message to the public and legislature that the
lawyers of this state, while favoring retention of their legal monopoly, are interested in
less oversight and desire a weaker State Bar with softer prosecution and regulation of
lawyers (e.g., no MCLE).
The declining percentage of lawyers in the
Cali-fornia legislature (currently 22%), resulting in a non-lawyer majority that
empathizes with citizens who cannot find or afford legal assistance.
The interest of powerful, non-lawyer-controlled
corporations, such as accounting firms, to enter the lucrative California market to offer
multidisciplinary services, including legal services provided by in-house lawyers, to
The interest of large, multistate law firms in
California to have members of their firms, not licensed in California, provide direct
representation to firm clients in California.
In addition to B&P Code §6400, mentioned above, the legislature has recently
promulgated CCP §1282.4, which permits out-of-state attorneys to represent clients in
arbitration proceedings in California, and has introduced a bill this session to regulate
the "paralegal profession" (AB 1275 [Rod Pacheco]).
The membership faces a deep schism if and when the legal monopoly falls. Large firm
practitioners will be pleased because they and their firms will become more efficient and
competitive. They will be able to use their most knowledgeable firm members, even if not
licensed in California, on California matters. Ancillary services will become much easier
to provide. Solo and small firm practitioners, on the other hand, will be unhappy because
they will suffer direct competition from independent legal technicians and paralegals.
The State Bar, as always, will be caught in the middle, receiving conflicting signals
as it attempts to further the interests of its diverse membership. Given its current
weakened state, it may not even have the ability to play a meaningful role in the debate.
Can you hear the horns blowing?
David M.M. Bell practices with Langford &
Bell in Walnut Creek, focusing on attorney conduct and legal malpractice. He may be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.