May 20, 2022
At its meeting May 19–20, the State Bar Board of Trustees accepted final amendments to the recommendations of the California Paraprofessional Program Working Group (CPPWG).
“It has been an honor to chair this hard-working group, which demonstrated tremendous dedication and diligence on this access initiative,” said working group Chair Justice Ioana Petrou of the California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District. “The CPPWG produced a final report that may need further adjustments, but it was clearly crafted to meet the goal of balancing meaningful public protection with a plan to address California’s justice gap.” Justice Petrou also thanked all who submitted comments on the proposal.
The Board established the working group in March 2020 to develop licensure and regulatory recommendations for a limited license in legal services. The 19-member group represented a broad range of relevant expertise, including consumer protection organizations, educators, regulatory specialists, and legal services professionals. The working group first met in April 2020, and over the course of nearly two dozen meetings of the full group and over 100 subcommittee meetings, shaped California’s first comprehensive proposal for a new licensed and regulated legal services professional. Paraprofessionals would handle routine matters in specified practice areas, intended to support the vast majority of Californians who typically face these issues without legal help.
Following a robust public comment period that generated more than 2,000 comments, approximately 70 percent from attorneys, the working group adjusted their initial proposal, including:
- Eliminating the ability of paraprofessionals to jointly own a firm with attorneys;
- Requiring paraprofessionals to provide detailed disclosures on practice limits and alternate resources, as well as contact information for legal services alternatives;
- Excluding certain areas from paraprofessional practice, such as estate conservatorship and guardianship matters, and family law matters related to surrogate parentage;
- Ensuring that no funding for the new program comes from funds used to support the State Bar’s discipline system; and
- Requiring the State Bar to provide annual public disclosure of all entities funding the paraprofessional program.
The next step in moving the plan forward involves development of a proposal to be approved by the Board later this year, for the California Supreme Court’s review. Upon the Court’s authorization, the State Bar would then submit the program to the Legislature for review and approval.
Request to extend deadline for Provisional Licensure Program
The Board heard public comment from numerous members of the provisional licensure program for 2020 law school graduates expressing concerns about the upcoming June 1, 2022, program expiration date. The original program, directed by the California Supreme Court in response to the pandemic, enabled 2020 law graduates to begin practice without taking a bar exam but required that they pass an exam before the program expired. The program enrolled 915 eligible 2020 law graduates as provisionally licensed lawyers. Of those, 619 have since been admitted to the State Bar as a result of sitting for and passing a bar exam, while another 57 left the program for other reasons. During the meeting, Board Chair Ruben Duran directed staff to make a formal request to the Supreme Court to consider extending the deadline for the program.
Office of the Ombuds
The Board also heard about plans for a new office that will act as an independent, impartial, and confidential resource to ensure that complaints about State Bar staff or actions receive full and impartial review.
The office will initially focus on complaints related to attorney discipline and admissions. It will educate consumers on how to file effective complaints and appeals and will assist complainants with resolving disputes. The new office is also expected to:
- Develop tools to assist consumers in filing complaints with the State Bar and accessing resources to help them solve the problems they may be experiencing;
- Report annually on the types of concerns raised by consumers and recommend policy and operational reforms to ensure that the agency responds effectively to those concerns; and
- Develop and oversee a public education plan designed to empower legal consumers and the general public at large with knowledge about their rights.
Staffing of the office is included in the 2022 budget. Once the office becomes established, the plan is to broaden its purview to other areas of the State Bar’s operations.
In other actions at the May meeting, the Board:
- Heard a progress report on implementation of recommendations from the California State Auditor.
- Approved a contract for Stacia Laguna to serve as the State Bar’s next Special Deputy Trial Counsel (SDTC) Administrator, who assigns disciplinary cases to outside counsel when the case involves individuals with close ties to the State Bar. Beginning June 1, 2022, Ms. Laguna will serve as the new SDTC administrator and carry an SDTC caseload. This change is expected to increase the efficiency of conflict case processing.
- Approved a contract for Cushman and Wakefield to represent the State Bar in the sale of its San Francisco headquarters building and the pursuit of new space in the Bay Area, through either purchase or lease.
- Reviewed an assessment of fees related to various functions of the Admissions office, which is currently facing a structural deficit of at least $7 million. The Board will review a plan to address the deficit at an upcoming meeting.