By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
If the Arizona Supreme Court approves the proposal early next year, those certified will be allowed to "prepare or provide legal documents . . . in any legal matter when [a customer] is not represented by an attorney."
Disbarred lawyers, convicted felons and others "not of good character" would not be eligible for certification. Under the new code, the State Bar also would be able to go after wrongdoers in the non-lawyer legal industry, through civil remedies such as cease-and-desist orders.
But even State Bar officials say they're unsure how that part of the proposed new code will work if the Supreme Court sanctions it.
"I don't see the bad guys in that industry getting shut down anytime in the near future," Van Wyck says. "But . . . out of all this, I think we came up with a much better system. We'll see."
On December 5, the committee convened last summer by Chief Justice Jones met for the final time. The session proved to be a microcosm of the intense rift that remains between lawyers and non-lawyers on the unauthorized-practice-of-law issue.
State Bar officials in attendance didn't say much, other than to applaud the "accountability" that the committee's revised proposal is designed to force on the non-lawyer legal industry.
But Phoenix attorney Les Tennen railed against the proposed rules changes on behalf of unnamed clients.
When he finished, committee member Richard Lubetsky -- a Los Angeles attorney who represents We the People, a chain of document-preparation businesses with two offices in the Valley -- asked Tennen if he believes consumers should have the right to choose between an attorney or a document preparer.
"My personal opinion is that document preparers should not be allowed to do any of this," Tennen replied. "I think it's the practice of law. If the real issue is low-cost legal services, then that should be the forum."
Countered Lubetsky, "The crucial thing is letting consumers know what they're dealing with. That's where the disclosure needs to be. We see far more complaints where people thought they were dealing with an attorney than anything else. You don't say, We're going to shut down the legal profession because of a few bad attorneys that are out there.'"
After the meeting, Rick Gordon said Tennen's viewpoint accurately sums up much of the Bar's mindset: "They hate us, they'll always hate us, and I still don't trust them."
Gordon's colleague, Allen Merrill, takes a broader view.
"Essentially, the Bar has given us everything we wanted, after they didn't want us to be in business at all," he says. "We've been legitimized, which is a good thing. We are the winners here."