California is besotted with lawyers. One report claims there are at least 42 lawyers for every 10,000 residents. Why, there are so many lawyers that there are even families of them! I know some with parents, sons, and daughters with bar cards.
And thanks to the presence of almost a quarter-million State Bar of California members, I easily conjured up the crazy notion — first told to me by a California lawyer — that somewhere among all the lawyer hordes in California, there’s at least one domus dulcis advocati with a dog also practicing the learned profession.
It’s no stretch either — as though drool and a tail would disqualify a diploma. Indeed, just a few years ago, Skeeter Jones became Canine-at-Law, thanks to Baylor Law School’s Honorary J.D.
Nothing succeeds like excess.
But if Oscar Wilde said “Moderation is a fatal thing” and “Nothing succeeds like excess,” when it comes to the legal establishment and their zeal for continued expansion of legal service providers, there’s no worry of moderation.
If only they’d heed Mark Twain instead of Oscar Wilde. “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.”
So much for goose sense.
In one more sign the legal establishment will be the last place to find solutions to the continuing problem of a nationwide glut of lawyers, the California Bar has “at least begun the conversation” to consider granting limited law licenses to non-lawyers “in areas of practice where clients can’t afford to hire attorneys and the type of action required does not call for a licensed attorney.” That makes as much sense as what God gave a goose.
For one, more non-lawyers doing legal work only worsens the pain for underemployed and unemployed young lawyers. Already, “one in six recent California law school grads can’t find jobs.”
And what about the unsuspecting consumer? Or as Matt Leichter wonders at The Law School Tuition Bubble, who knows if “limited practice licenses provide cheap, unbundled services or if they’re just a swinging door for fraud.”
Slow-roasted carved duck.
A decade ago, the complaisant Arizona Bar heeding the siren call of the state’s highest court also certified legal document preparers.
But for a convenient exception carved out of the Unauthorized Practice of Law Rule (UPL) to except non-lawyers from UPL, the bankruptcy, divorce and will preparation work undertaken by now court-sanctified legal document preparers would’ve amounted to the practice of law. After all, while it may look like a duck, walk like a duck and quack like a duck, by judicial fiat, it’s not a duck.
Nevertheless, without much empirical evidence, proponents argue that legal document preparers expand “Access to Justice” and enhance the delivery of legal services to the poor, the downtrodden and anyone else willing to pay non-lawyer rates that can sometimes run as high as $100 per hour.
More than salmon spawns in Washington.
California lawyers can blame the State of Washington for spawning the limited license to non-lawyers idea. The Washington State Supreme Court recently ordered its bar to adopt a limited-license program authorizing non-lawyers to engage in the limited practice of law.
And leave it to Washington State for more bright ideas. Despite record nationwide declining law school enrollment; a U.S. oversupply of law schools; and new lawyers unable to find jobs, let alone pay back six-figure tuition loans — there’s a group of clueless Washingtonians hoping to resurrect a law school back to Tacoma, WA — as though anyone needs another law school.
California’s bar bureaucrats must think, if the State of Washington can get away with ill-serving its lawyers, why not California? But when the Holy Grail for legal establishment do-gooders remains the ballyhooed expanded ‘Access to Justice,’ there’s always a way even if it usually doesn’t work.
Fortunately, the odds are good California lawyers won’t play dead on this one. Unlike Washington State, which has barely 14 percent as many lawyers as California, this idea’s so ugly that even if the Cal Bar’s leaders tie a pork chop around its neck — the dog will never play with it.
Don’t Worry About the Mule Going Blind — Load the Wagon.
So long as the burdens are inflicted on others, keep loading the wagons the mules ain’t blind — yet. Such is the logic that keeps “Access to Justice” types thinking up new ways to feel good about themselves — so long as the “privilege burdened with conditions” keeps meaning someone else pays.
A better idea?
But despite critics who call Pro Bono Mandates “indentured servitude,” so long as “Access to Justice” is an end-all, here’s a better idea. And arguably, weighing in the considerable educational training already invested — it may be a sure-fire winner.
Rather than messing around with certifying more non-lawyer-cum-legal-document-preparers — why not model Deck Shifflett and formally credential a new category — the Paralawyer?
Think of the potential new licensing fees! The new continuing legal education programs! And think of one more governing body of bureaucratic substrata. And what of the talent pool! Why there are thousands and thousands of non-bar exam passing J.D.s — in California alone!
Of course — I’m kidding.
Photo Credits: “Lawyer Dog,” at http://www.quickmeme.com/Lawyer-Dog/;”A Nip Against the Cold,” by Erskine Nicol, at Wikipedia Commons, public domain; “Whisky the Poser!” by Kelly Inspire Kelly at Flickr via Creative Commons-license requiring attribution; “Haskell County, Texas family looking for cotton to pick,” by G. W. Ackerman, USDA Historical Photo 00di0965 CD8151-965 at Wikipedia Commons, public domain.