Each year, millions of Californians face legal problems” class=”link “civil legal problems — with healthcare, personal finances, employment, housing, family disputes or estates — but never get help from a lawyer.
Many of them earn too much to qualify for free legal services for the poor, but too little to afford a lawyer’s typical rate of $400 an hour. People concerned about this lack of access to justice have been working to develop new ways to offer quality legal services at a lower cost. A group led by the State Bar, which regulates lawyers, is considering innovative approaches that could involve licensing paraprofessionals or developing online tools, similar to the way TurboTax makes it easier for people to file their taxes without hiring an accountant.
Unfortunately, their ideas may never become reality. California lawmakers are on the cusp of shutting down this important work by putting so many limitations on the research that it would be impossible to develop an innovative proposal for how online legal services might work. Each year, the Legislature passes perfunctory, technical legislation allowing the bar to collect annual licensing fees from attorneys. This year, the Assembly Judiciary Committee that wrote Assembly Bill 2958 is using the process to block the bar from exploring changes to laws that govern who’s allowed to own a law practice, the issue that lies at the crux of the fight over developing affordable legal options .
This would be a drastic mistake by lawmakers — and is not even necessary. Once the working group comes up with a formal proposal to allow online legal services, it would need approval from the State Bar’s