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The Role of Assembly Bill 690 in Promoting Legal Services Competition in California

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Introduction

In response to a request from Assembly Member Phillip Chen of the 59th District, the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice provided its views on California Assembly Bill (AB) No. 690. This proposed bill seeks to extend the authorization for legal document assistants (LDAs) and unlawful detainer assistants (UDAs) to offer limited legal-related services until January 1, 2030. The Division’s response highlights the importance of competition in the legal services market and the potential benefits of AB 690 for consumers and workers.

Promoting Competition and Access to Legal Services

The Antitrust Division is dedicated to enforcing federal antitrust laws to ensure free and fair competition. AB 690 aims to enhance competition by expanding the pool of legal service providers, allowing non-lawyers to compete with lawyers for specific services. This competition can lead to lower costs, greater consumer choice, and increased access to justice. The Division argues that unduly broad restrictions on the practice of law can impose significant competitive costs on consumers and impede innovation .

Historical Context and Legal Precedents

The regulation of the practice of law has been a long-standing interest for the Antitrust Division. Federal antitrust laws apply to the legal profession, as affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in cases like Goldfarb v. Virginia State Bar and Palmer v. BRG of Georgia, Inc. . The Division has taken enforcement actions to remove unreasonable restraints in the legal services marketplace, including restrictions on competition between lawyers and non-lawyers .

California’s Legal Document Assistants and Unlawful Detainer Assistants

Since 1998, Section 6400 of California’s Business and Professions Code has allowed qualified non-lawyers to provide limited legal-related services . LDAs assist with tasks such as filing paperwork for child support modifications and domestic violence restraining orders, while UDAs help with unlawful detainer claims, often related to eviction proceedings .

Addressing the Justice Gap

The 2019 California Justice Gap Study revealed that a significant portion of Californians experience civil legal problems without receiving legal assistance. This issue is particularly severe for low-income residents, with only 29% seeking legal help for their problems . Housing-related issues are the most common, with legal aid organizations unable to meet the demand . LDAs and UDAs can help bridge this gap by offering affordable assistance for routine legal tasks .

Benefits of AB 690

Continuing the LDA and UDA programs under AB 690 would promote competition and lower costs for legal services. It would also support job creation by allowing non-lawyers to provide essential services, addressing employment barriers . Prohibiting non-lawyers from performing certain tasks should be based on clear evidence of consumer harm, ensuring that restrictions are narrowly tailored and necessary to protect public interest .

Conclusion

The Antitrust Division’s support for AB 690 underscores the importance of maintaining competition in the legal services market. By allowing non-lawyers to continue providing limited legal-related services, the bill would enhance consumer access to affordable legal assistance and support employment opportunities. The Division encourages the California State Legislature to adopt AB 690, promoting a competitive and accessible legal services market for all Californians.


References:

  1. U.S. Department of Justice, Antitrust Division. “Letter to North Carolina General Assembly.” February 14, 2023.
  2. U.S. Department of Justice, Antitrust Division. “Comments on Proposed Definition of the Practice of Law.” December 20, 2002.
  3. The State Bar of California. “The California Justice Gap: Measuring the Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Californians.” 2019.
  4. California Business and Professions Code, § 6400 et seq. (2019).
  5. California Association of Legal Document Assistants. “What is a Legal Document Assistant.”

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