California: If It Doesn’t Work, It Doesn’t Work

Is it just one person, one monumentally stupid person, or is this the view of the California Bar Association?

Roseville attorney Joanna Mendoza may be winding down her law practice but she still finds herself at the heart of a legal debate.

Mendoza serves on a state bar committee charged with recommending ideas for increasing the availability of legal services to all Californians, not just those who can afford lawyers. Some of the group’s proposals so far—fee-sharing, allowing nonlawyers to own law firms, using artificial intelligence—have proven controversial. A recent public comment period on the options drew almost 2,900 responses, many of them critical.

Mendoza is passionately concerned about the lack of “access to justice” for people who are too poor to retain a lawyer, or just don’t want to spend their money on a lawyer.

It’s a complex problem, reduced in the minds of the exceptionally simplistic to a problem with lawyers. Why, oh why, won’t lawyers just work for free? Why aren’t there organizations whose purpose is to provide free legal services for everyone who wants them? What is wrong with lawyers?

“This is a big shift in the legal industry in the United States. It’s starting to catch fire,” she said in a recent interview with The Recorder. “It’s probably going to take a number of years to get anywhere, but I’m hopeful that because of the amount of momentum that we’re seeing right now, it will happen. And it will eventually happen throughout the United States.”

And she’s right, there is a shift in the minds of the unduly passionate that the legal profession must change so that the poor can get legal representation and the lawyers can get . . . what? Therein lies the problem. While emoting about the needs of the poor, bar officials like Mendoza lack the capacity to consider the implications of their value system that kill the patient to cure the symptom.

Mendoza: I go back to the splitting up of the bar because before we separated out the trade association functions it tended to be fairly attorney-focused. The split allowed the board and the organization to look at issues such as the access-to-justice crisis that we have in the country and in California in particular.

Not long ago, bar associations were about the bar, which could well explain their name. But to the woke, this was trivialized as a “trade association,” even though that’s pretty much what it was. What it was not was the Association To Make Lawyers Work For Free or the Woke Organization To Eliminate Greedy Lawyers Who Want Their Children To Eat. To people like Mendoza, the new goal of the California bar wasn’t focused on lawyers, but on people who needed lawyers. The poor became their constituents and the lawyers became their enemy, even if it was an association of and for lawyers.

But she’s got an answer for that, too.

We know the status quo is not working and that the problem is continuing to grow and that there’s not enough attorneys to fill that gap. We could never fill that gap with attorneys in legal aid. It’s just impossible. So we have to be able to try things that we haven’t done to address it.

There are probably few assertions more fundamentally reflective of the times than this, that bar association official Mendoza has no clue whether this scheme, part of which was tried in Washington State with 3LTs, and failed spectacularly, has any possibility of actually accomplishing her misdirected goal, but she’s more than happy to destroy the integrity of the legal profession to find out. She’s the postergirl for the syllogism.*

If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But it’s not likely to make things worse. And right now doing nothing is making things worse.

But not only is it extremely likely to make things worse, almost guaranteed, but she can’t be bothered to even try to think through the destruction she’s about to wreak on the legal profession. The “right now” doesn’t relate to the legal professions continued existence and viability, but to the provision of free legal services to the poor or cheap.

That she has no clue whether the changes will advance that goal is one problem: in the fantasy world of wokeness, allowing non-lawyer ownership of law firms and non-lawyer practice of law are the sorts of solutions that the woke crowd says will fix everything.

The problem with these fixes is obvious: just because someone lacking any competency in the law can now take money from poor people to provide legal services, despite their lack of education, skills or experience, and despite their not being subject to any ethical constraints or consequences, and not having malpractice insurance for their screw-ups because they can’t commit malpractice because they aren’t friggin’ lawyers, does not mean they will provide sham services for free or less money than lawyers would charge.

At best, it will still be expensive, because non-lawyers are just as happy to make bank on providing legal services as lawyers. At worst, it will be disastrously expensive, as they will be allowed to lie to potential clients since they’re unconstrained by disciplinary rules. They can guarantee outcomes. They can sucker them in with loss-leader rates, then rate-rape the poor blind fools once they’ve suckered them in.

And if they fail to deliver, what’s an indigent client gonna do about it?

But in the fertile imaginations of the woke, non-lawyer legal service providers will ride unicorns on rainbows, take oaths of poverty, chastity and obedience, and all be named Mother Teresa. Of course, if things don’t turn out that way, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, there’s no undoing the damage. They’re screwed. We’re screwed. Oops.

This isn’t to say that all lawyers are Clarence Darrow, or that there isn’t a need for representation for the poor outside of criminal court. What this is to say is that the mindless elimination of a profession, by their own passionate bar association officials, isn’t an answer. If only officious saviors like Mendoza had the capacity to think before they destroy.

*Something must be done.
This is something.
This must be done.

15 thoughts on “California: If It Doesn’t Work, It Doesn’t Work

  1. Hunting Guy

    Samuel Langhorne Clemens.

    “Lawyers are like other people–fools on the average; but it is easier for an ass to succeed in that trade than any other.”

  2. CLS

    Oh sweet Christmas. I can already see how this plays out.

    Defendant: “I need a lawyer. The cops said I’m charged with aggravated assault.”
    Mendoza: “Don’t worry, sir! We’ll get you justice! Meet our newest team member, Jimmy Numbers.”
    D: “Is he a lawyer?”
    M: “No, he’s an accountant who lost his job after committing egregious tax fraud. But he’s been to prison so he knows about justice!”
    JN: “Alls the legal education I need I got from watching “My Cousin Vinny.”
    M: “Don’t you worry, sir, you’re in good hands. Access to Justice achieved!”
    D: “Oh shit, I’m fucked.”
    JN: “That’ll be $5000 to get you started.”

  3. Richard G. Kopf

    Ms. Mendoza is a moron. Your post about her causes me to mix literary metaphors if only to prove that I can be as dumb as she. To wit,

    The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends inexorably toward the inane–and not with a bang but a whimper.

    All the best.


    1. SHG Post author

      As long as we’re mixing, the morons shall inherit the earth. And destroy it, but with the best of intentions.

          1. Guitardave

            Sorry JB, but WTF? …can you translate those last two lines into English for me?
            PS: Cool tune, though….Gomez Addams on meth really gets it done!

            1. SHG Post author


              [You haven’t seen the 17 JB comments trashed already this morning.]

  4. B. McLeod

    Probably the most common complaints about litigation of all kinds are that it costs too much and takes too long. I suppose it was for this reason that bar associations decided to start acting like they cared about “access to justice.” Unfortunately, they don’t want to spend any substantive time or real thought addressing it, so the “solutions” trotted out have been a combination of 1) asking other lawyers to work for free, and 2) letting unlicensed people cover legal services for the poor. There will never be enough experienced lawyers in a position to (or willing to) regularly work for free. Turning the chore over to the unlicensed is not materially different from having the unlicensed litigant go pro se. It amounts to not giving the indigent litigants what they really need, but proclaiming that the problem has been addressed because they have been given something less than they need. Even though it doesn’t work.

  5. MonitorsMost

    Our current licensing scheme is an abject failure at keeping incompetent people out of the practice of law. If the teachings of expensive law schools and the bar exam are not adequately weeding out the incompetent, then the primary purpose they are serving is as a price-protection barrier to entry.

    Except where there is a constitutional right to competent counsel (criminal defense), I believe that lowering the barriers to entry are generally a good way to lower cost. There will always be clients willing to pay for quality legal representation. The credentialed incompetent having to compete with the uncredentialed who are of ambiguous competence seems like a good idea to me. To the extent that consumers are not able to adequately differentiate competent attorneys from incompetent attorneys, this is a problem that already exists in our current system.

    1. SHG Post author

      You make a surprising logical error. Despite the fact that neither law school nor the bar are sufficient to prevent incompetent people from practicing law, the elimination of both would introduce far more incompetent people into the mix. Remember, the opposite of bad isn’t good. It can always get worse. In this case, it can get far worse.

      1. MonitorsMost

        It’s not disruptive innovation if you’re not disrupting. We’re never getting cybertruck to market by introducing it in phases. It has to come all at once, flux-capacitor included.

        Yeah, there is something to be said that Ms. Mendoza’s proposal drifts towards the neat, simple and wrong problem. I don’t think corporate practice of law is a particularly good or consumer-focused idea. I do think there is something to be said about how are current gatekeeping is unreasonably expensive and poorly matched with our legitimate public interests. The practice of law isn’t cosmetology, but it sure as hell isn’t brain surgery either.

Comments are closed.