The canons below were created by The Legal Doc to protect consumers and serve as a guide to aid LDAs, paralegals and the public in the delivery of professional legal document preparation and self-help legal services.
Canon 1 A Legal Document Assistant shall strictly comply with all laws* governing the practices of non-attorney legal service providers, and shall closely follow the accepted standards of legal ethics and general principles of proper conduct.
Canon 2 A Legal Document Assistant shall achieve and maintain a high level of competence through continuing education and training with respect to professional responsibility, legal ethics, and court rules, forms and procedures.
Canon 3 A Legal Document Assistant shall maintain a high level of personal and professional integrity and conduct.
Canon 4 A Legal Document Assistant shall serve the public interests by delivering quality legal document preparation services that satisfy all requirements of the California Business & Professions Code and any rules and regulations established by the courts or any administrative agency.
Canon 5 A Legal Document Assistant shall preserve all confidential information provided by the client or acquired from other sources, to the extent the law permits, before, during and after the course of the professional relationship. An LDA may reveal confidential information only after full disclosure and with the client's written consent; or when required by a law or court order.
Canon 6 A Legal Document Assistant shall not engage in the unauthorized practice of law, and shall refrain from providing legal recommendations,
suggesting remedies, selecting forms or applying the law to the facts of a client’s particular situation.
Canon 7 A Legal Document Assistant shall disclose his or her status as a non-attorney, self-help legal service provider at the outset of any LDA-client relationship.
Canon 8 A Legal Document Assistant shall act prudently in determining whether the client's needs exceed the definition of “self-help services” as set forth in Business & Professions Code § 6400(d); and if such a determination is made, the LDA shall immediately inform the client that he or she requires the services of an attorney.
Canon 9 A Legal Document Assistant shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety, and shall not engage in any conduct that would adversely affect his or her fitness to practice, including, but not limited to, the following: the unauthorized practice of law, violence, dishonesty, and/or abuse of a professional position or public office.
Canon 10 A Legal Document Assistant shall support and participate in efforts to improve consumer protection, access to justice, the judicial system, and the LDA and paralegal professions.
* Such laws include, but are not limited to the California Business & Professions Code chapters regarding legal document assistants (§ 6400 et seq.) paralegals (§ 6450 et seq.), and the unlawful practice of law (§ 6125 et seq.); the California Code of Regulations (16 CCR § 3950); the federal statutes regarding non-attorney bankruptcy petition preparers (11 US Code § 110); and the California State Bar’s Rules of Professional Conduct
The LDA shall provide:
1. Upfront pricing.
2. A fully-executed copy of the Legal Document Assistant Contract, as set forth in 16 CCR § 3950, at the beginning of the LDA-client relationship.
3. Clear communication regarding the scope of LDA services available, and the meaning of "self-help service" within the context of the LDA-client relationship.
4. Professionally prepared legal documents that accurately reflect the information provided by the client; and any errors being addressed quickly and equitably.
5. Referrals to attorneys, legal aid, or other legal service providers to answer specific legal questions regarding the client's particular situation.
6. Exclusively control and direct his or her legal case, strategy, argument and implementation.
7. Access to published legal materials to assist him or her in making informed decisions.
8. Confidentiality, to the fullest extent permitted by law.
9. Be presented with a copy of the LDA's registration credentials.
10. Information about how to resolve any disputes that may arise out of the LDA-client relationship.
11. Reasonable and timely responses to all communications.
12. Complete access to the entire client file maintained by the LDA, and immediate return of documents upon request.
Legal Document Assistants are required to fulfill mandatory credits for Continuing Legal Education, including Ethics training. Kathleen stays up-to-date and exceeds the mandatory requirements for continuing legal education (MCLE).
Every client has the responsibility to:
1. Educate himself or herself of the potential legal options applicable to his or her particular situation or objectives.
2. Seek qualified legal counsel if the LDA determines that he or she requires the services of an attorney.
3. Refrain from requesting or expecting that the LDA provide legal advice (i.e., asking the LDA to apply the law to the facts of the client's specific situation).
4. Provide clear and complete written instructions to direct the LDA in the preparation of legal documents.
5. Provide reasonable and timely responses to all communications from the LDA.
6. Carefully review any document prepared by the LDA before the document is signed and filed, recorded or served.
7. Present any questions or concerns prior to final documents being prepared.
You’ve seen the ads. Countless “rogue” paralegals, who are nothing more than illegal, unregistered legal document preparers, advertise their services as being “provided pursuant to Business & Professions Code section 6450, et seq.,” or “attorney supervised,” or “attorney available for consultation.”
Most of the California legal community is aware that sections 6450-6456 of the Business & Professions Code set forth the education and experience requirements for paralegals, as well as restrictions on advertising for freelance paralegals. Unfortunately, most of the general public does not possess such awareness. The majority of consumers do not know that a paralegal is prohibited from performing services for non-attorneys, nor are they aware that advertising and business cards must include the name of the law firm employing the paralegal or a statement that the paralegal is employed by or contracts with a licensed attorney. It’s a convenient misunderstanding — for the illegal operator, anyway.
The first part of Section 6451 almost appears to support the rogue paralegal’s contention that what he or she is doing is codified in California law. “It is unlawful for a paralegal to perform any services for a consumer except as performed under the direction and supervision of the attorney...” So far, so good, right? Just state in the ad, “attorney supervision pursuant to Business & Professions Code section 6450, et seq.”; the document preparer is exempt from registering as a legal document assistant because he or she works “under the direction” of a supervising attorney, right? Wrong. This section goes on to state, “...law firm, corporation, government agency, or other entity that employs or contracts with the paralegal.”
It really boils down to the age-old saying, “Follow the money.” As far as a bona fide independent, freelance paralegal is concerned, the “client” is the attorney who has requested and directs the work; that is who the paralegal must have a contract with. That is the only client a paralegal is permitted to have. An attorney must have the contractual relationship with the consumer, and that attorney may or may not choose to delegate some of the work to a paralegal employee or freelance independent contractor. Nothing in the law permits a paralegal or even a legitimate legal document assistant practice to employ an attorney for the purposes of advising clients or circumventing Business & Professions Code section 6450, et seq. In fact, the California Rules of Professional Conduct state that an attorney “shall not form a partnership with a person who is not a lawyer if any of the activities of that partnership consist of the practice of law.” (Rule 1-310)
After establishing that paralegals are not permitted to have an ownership interest in a law practice, we must turn to the referrals generated by such “paralegal” advertising. Let’s assume that “Everytown Paralegal” advertises their paralegal services, with “attorney supervision” or “consultation,” and it is abundantly clear that this individual is nothing more than an unregistered LDA offering legal document preparation services to members of the public. But Everytown Paralegal claims to comply with section 6450 et seq. because the consumer signs a fee agreement with the “supervising attorney.” Everytown Paralegal is no longer an illegal, unregistered LDA; however we now have a business engaged in running and capping, which is explicitly prohibited under section 6450(b)(4). No matter how you look at it, these “paralegals” and their business practices are nothing short of fraudulent, preying upon the ignorance of an unsuspecting public. Furthermore, aside from the obvious lack of consumer protection, this represents a business practice that is significantly unfair to those of us who operate our businesses within the parameters of the Business & Professions Code by properly registering as a legal document assistant, advertising in accordance with the law, and utilizing the LDA Contract required by the Department of Consumer Affairs. On the other hand, they avoid the expense and hassle of obtaining a bond and registering, thus lowering their overhead and enabling them to undercut the prices legitimate LDAs must charge for our document preparation services. To add insult to injury, this type of advertising conveys the impression that the illegal operator actually provides “more” or “better” services than the typical registered LDA. Whereas the LDA’s advertising explains that we are not attorneys and cannot give legal advice, the illegal “paralegal” has an attorney “on staff” who can advise her clients, affording the consumer a “value-added” service. Our contract is long and full of disclaimers and explanations about what the LDA cannot do for the client, while the “paralegal” is free to dispense with the written contracts, take cash without so much as a receipt, and “advise” the client how to proceed. And the average consumer is none the wiser. Unfortunately, our profession is too new, and enforcement too lacking, for the general public to see these ”paralegals“ for the charlatans that they are.
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