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Access to Justice Taskforce Meeting report from Fran Chernowsky

06/01/2014 12:26 PM | Deleted user
Ed. - Ms. Chernowsky is a former executive director of the California Association of Paralegal Associations and former president of the Los Angeles Paralegal Association, also sat on the State Bar’s Public Protection Committee in the mid-1980’s and has followed the regulation of paralegals and legal document assistants for many years.  She is an independent contractor paralegal and continues to support and lobby for the ability of professional paralegals to provide direct services to the public as part of an overall program to improve access to justice and the courts for those who cannot afford a lawyer or who elect not to employ one.

Subject: Access to Justice Task Force Meeting 5/28/14


Feel Free to Circulate this Report.  


It appeared to me that  the Task Force was made up of  several non-lawyers or lawyers involved in community service who are not associated with the State Bar.  I noticed only 3 or 4 State Bar officials were on the Task Force of which included Luis Rodriguez, the current State Bar President and chair of this task force. Three of these State Bar people are on the Board of Governors and also on the UPL Committee.


Mr. Rodriguez indicated that he will be stepping down from the bar and that Craig Holden, who is running unopposed for State Bar President, and a member of the task force, will be elected in July and will take office in September.   It was suggested by one of the State Bar lawyers (I think it was David Torres) that is likely that Mr. Rodriguez may be re-appointed by Mr. Holden to chair the Task Force - thereby enabling continuity.


At the beginning of the meeting, the chair,  Luis Rodriguez, indicated that the members were divided up into 3 working groups and that at the next meeting more detail about the work of each subgroup will be discussed:


One group, called the "Legal Services Now" group will be involved with increased access with respect to legal services presently provided (including pro bono work and work by "Legal Aid"- type groups.  John Atkins is the chair.


The second group was called the "Legal Services Future" group which likely is the group for us to watch:  Members include Donna Ford, Ana Maria Garcia, James Meeker, Marty Omoto and Laurie Zelon.


The third subgroup is the "Student Group" who will be concerned with law students and associated issues.


I got a chance to talk only with Committee Member  Marty Omoto of the California Disability Action Network.  Marty actually approached me and we exchanged cards.  He was very friendly. Since Marty is on the "legal services future" committee that we should likely want to watch closely, I'm glad he made himself so accessible.  I will keep in touch with him and perhaps he can introduce me to others on the "future" committee with whom those interested paralegals and LDAs can interact, educate, and perhaps "lobby".


In addition to me, the non-lawyer visitor/observers from the Paralegal and/or LDA community consisted of Kerry Spence (Gerry Spence's daughter) who does both "traditional" (under the supervision of lawyers) paralegal work and LDA work,  and David Merino from SDSLA (San Diego Legal Secretaries Association).  David is also a traditional paralegal as well as a legal secretary.


There was a court reporter at the meeting and I got her business card.  She did not know if the transcript of the meeting was going to be distributed or posted online.  I will contact her in a couple of days and find out if the transcript will be available for a reasonable price or free distribution.


The meeting consisted primarily of speakers who were in other cities or states who where "Skyped" and appeared via tv screen.   The first speaker was Judge Jonathan Lippman,  the Chief Judge of NY State and the Chief Justice of the New York Court of Appeals (the equivalent of the CA Supreme Court).  He spoke and answered questions for more than an hour about the problems of access identified in NY which are applicable to CA and other states.  I am providing only the main points with emphasis on those areas which relate to us non-lawyers.


In NY, the judicial system recently concerned itself with increasing the access to justice in several ways as follows:  (1) mandatory pro bono; (2) obtaining grants for non-profit legal services groups; and (3) developing a "Court Navigator" program using some non-lawyers to help individuals during court trials and hearings.


The Court Navigators program is just starting up and intended not only to assist litigants with the legal process but  also to help them communicate with the Judges and/or to answer questions by the Judges during hearings.   The first group of  Navigators are presently to be made up of non-lawyers (described as "paralegals who graduated good

colleges")  and law students.  Some Navigators are volunteers and some will be paid.  The judge felt that there were numerous more things that could be done to increase access including using non-lawyers who he felt could be trained to do many tasks without worrying about the issues of UPL.  In fact, he reiterated that it was probably not possible to define the practice of law and that it was not something that NY wanted to concern itself about.


Judge Lippman thought that if the Navigator program was successful, then it would be broadened to many areas such as family law (presently, the Navigators are being trained to work in the areas of housing issues and consumer credit).   He said that he thought a properly trained non-lawyer who had concentrated in a certain area would be far more effective in delivering services in that area than a lawyer who was a generalist.  He hoped that the Navigator Program (which is only pilot program to be evaluated in a couple of years) would be expanded to provide all types of help for indigent and those with modest means who could not afford a lawyer.


He seemed to dismiss without elaboration,  the British system which permits nonlawyers  to provide some legal services, leaving the impression that only the judiciary should train and oversee non-lawyers.  He thought the bar should not be involved because of a conflict of interest.  He indicated that unlike Washington that developed the statutory LLLT (Limitied Licensed Legal Technicians), the NY Judiciary took matters in their own hands without going to the legislature.  I think an offhand comment illuminates that the use of non-lawyers for increasing access is not his preferred vehicle:  he talked a great deal about mandatory pro bono programs and referred to help by non-lawyers as "low bono".   I don't know if the "low" pertains to low cost or low quality.


The next speaker was Stephen R. Crossland, who is the chair of the LLLT Board.   He provided handouts about the LLLT (called Triple L Technicians) including slides showing the history and implementation of the LLLT program, the regulatory scheme, and a flow chart entitled "Pathway to LLT Admission" which includes a kind of grandfather clause.  (I will scan them and e-mail them separately to you if you are interested - it's quite a lot of stuff.)


Mr. Crossland indicated that the history included numerous attempts over the years to institute this program which the Bar opposed at first.   He also stated that those involved in the development of the concept of the LLLT agreed that the program should be under the auspices of the Judiciary and not the Bar (to avoid conflicts of interest and anti-trust).  He emphasized the make up of the Board was to require no fewer than 4 non-lawyers and at least one educator.   The remaining members of the LLLT Board can be lawyers but there is no requirement that lawyers outnumber non-lawyers.  The current board includes the former president of the Washington Paralegal Association, the director of a paralegal program, as well as a law school educator.


  The LLLT program was to initially focus on creating licensing for family law practitioners but ultimately they hoped to add other areas.  Unlike Judge Lippman,  Mr. Crossland said that Washington did have a definition of the practice of law and that the LLLT program was actually an authorization of non-lawyers to engage in the practice of law.   He

indicated that in Ontario, Canada, many of the paralegals who had been engaging in what some considered unauthorized practice of law went out and got licensed as soon as that program was established.


When discussing the differences between law school and training to become an LLLT, Mr. Crossland indicated that there were some controls in place to prevent the cost of educational programs to become an LLLT to become like the cost of going to law school. Specifically, he said that the training was not to exceed two years and the cost could not exceed $15,000 in tuition.   He did say that they wanted the training to be "academically rigorous" and that the programs be part of the statewide community college program and to collaborate with law schools   Since his legal practice is in remote part of the state which is served by fewer lawyers than in the cities, he wants to make sure that there are LLLTs throughout the state to fill in the gap where there are few lawyers as well as few affordable ones.   At first, they wanted the schools to be ABA-approved but now the LLLT Board will create its own approval program.  Some classes may be streamed live around the state to help those who do not have access to nearby schools or who are otherwise not mobile.


Asked what was to prevent LLLTs from charging the same amount as the lowest paid lawyers charge,  Mr. Crossland said that this was unlikley because a consumer would chose a lawyer if the fee was the same.  He also said it was not the LLLT's Board province to determine what fees the LLLT should charge, especially since there are lawyers on the LLLT Board (thus creating a conflict of interest and/or anti-trust concerns).


The LLLT  program will go into effect in 2015.   The business model is that LLLTs can work without lawyers, can also work with lawyers, and/or might go into business with lawyers.


The last three  speakers were from The Robin Hood Foundation (involved in funding legal services in NYC and fighting poverty) , and two who were involved with developing consumer-oriented legal technology.   One of the projects of the Robin Hood Foundation was to help fund the Immigrant Justice Corps which is comprised of bilingual law students and paralegals who are empowered to assist with some immigration issues and also sometimes with criminal issues and other legal needs in the community.  They would be supervised by non-profit legal services providers.


The first legal technology speaker (Margaret Hagen of Legal Tech & Design) is a Stanford Law student or recent graduate who is involved in designing various programs to make the immigration system more user-friendly, redesigning legal notices and the fine print to make consumers more aware of what their rights and obligations are, and elder law programs, etc.


The second legal technology speaker ( Colin Rule) was developing his conflict resolution technology called MODRIA (Modular Online Dispute Resolution Internet Application)  to legal applications after having used it for managing disputes by Ebay or PayPal users.  His focus was on small disputes that consumers might have but which don't meet the minimum jurisdictions of the courts and are even too small for small claims.   The applications are to be free or very inexpensive and allows two people to mediate, negotiate and settle online.  He thinks this could be a good tool for divorce mediation, landlord-tenant and no-fault auto accident situations such as they have in some states.  The software is currently used by several states for property tax appeals.



The next meeting of the Task Force is June 18th.  It will also be in L.A.  I will be glad to go.   In August, the meeting will be in S.F. but due to the existence of large conventions there'll be no hotel rooms available at a reasonable price.  He is starting the meeting at 10:30 and suggests people fly in very early and expect to leave town that

evening.   Meetings in October and November will follow August.   No meeting in September (the State Bar usually has its convention then).

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