By Angie Walters – October 14, 2009
With the passage of Assembly Bill 590 by Governor Schwarzenneger this week, Californians are waking up not only to our increasingly overburdened court systems, but to the high costs of legal fees that clearly warrant such legislation.
Assembly Bill 590 makes California the first state in the nation to establish a right to counsel for low-income people who cannot afford an attorney. It will be funded through an increase of $10 in court fees.
According to the bill, over 4.3 million Californians are believed to be currently unrepresented in civil court proceedings, largely because they cannot afford representation. Perhaps even worse, an alarmingly increasing number of litigants are representing themselves, further burdening an already overburdened court system.
The California Association of Legal Document Assistants (CALDA) is the time-honored organization for legal document preparation professionals and supporters of this profession. Helping Californians gain legal access has been the mission of CALDA since its inception in 1986. CALDA has been a stalwart proponent of efforts to provide a cost-effective legal alternative assisting the “self-help” client handle their own legal matters, in many instances without the cost of an attorney.
CALDA supported AB 590 and is proud to have worked with the bill’s author, Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) on some of the language involving legal document services to the consumer. We also see AB 590 as an important opportunity to continue to raise awareness of the Legal Document Assistant profession as a legal and cost-effective alternative that has already benefited thousands of Californians, and possibly benefit millions more.
Californians can gain even greater access to the court systems in a cost-effective manner by using the services of a Legal Document Assistant.
For example, since even the best legal, self-help books can be confusing and overwhelming, LDAs can provide invaluable assistance with routine legal tasks, such as typing and filing the paperwork for uncontested divorces, bankruptcies, wills, custody modifications, legal name changes, business incorporations and many other types of form driven matters.
Many, if not all, legal forms are very confusing; incorrectly filled out forms will delay your case, possibly for a long time. An experienced LDA can help consumers avoid the pitfalls and also make sure every important detail on a form is accounted for.
LDA vs. Paralegal
A Legal Document Assistant is not a lawyer. By law, LDAs cannot give legal advice or represent litigants in the courts in any matter. But, many consumers still confuse LDAs with paralegals or ‘legal aid’ providers.
LDAs have the same educational background as a paralegal, however, unlike paralegals, LDAs are trained to prepare legal documents for the “self-help” client, with or without an attorney, at a fraction of the cost of the old way of hiring only an attorney.
Most LDAs are also self-employed businessowners, and are required by law to be registered and bonded in the county in which they have their principal place of business.
There are approximately 750 registered LDAs in California. Over 250 LDAs are listed on CALDA’s directory, searchable by name, city, county, services and area code.
Invitation to C.L.E.A.R. Meeting in Washington D.C.
On October 15-16, Carol Ludlow, our past president and I will represent CALDA at a historic meeting in Washington D.C. organized by the Center for Legal Empowerment, Accountability and Reform, formerly known as HALT (Help Abolish Legal Tyranny). CLEAR is a 30-year old nonpartisan public interest group, and is the nation’s largest legal reform organization with more than 30,000 members.
CLEAR has invited CALDA and the other organizations who had been involved in advising Assemblyman Feuer on AB 590. The meeting aims to discuss ways to support LDAs and other alternative legal services providers, raise awareness of the legal document provider profession, serve consumers better, and establish state legislative priorities.
According to Roger Gordon, Executive Director of CLEAR, this is the first time the alternative bar has come together under one roof.
Rest assured that CALDA is committed to ensuring that the issues discussed at the meeting and other legislation going forward will benefit not only the Legal Document Assistant profession, but also all the self-help legal consumers of California.
Angie Walters serves as Legislative Chair of the California Association of Legal Document Assistants, and is the owner of ASAP Legal LLC in Roseville, California. She will be giving an update on AB 590 and the CLEAR meeting during CALDA’s 22nd Annual Membership Conference on October 17 at the Sacramento Doubletree Hotel.