CBJ - June 2009 #01. Board reaches compromise on lawyer search.

Author:By Nancy McCarthy

California Bar Journal


CBJ - June 2009 #01.

Board reaches compromise on lawyer search

California Bar Journal June 2009 Board reaches compromise on lawyer searchBy Nancy McCarthyStaff WriterThe State Bar will create an online "Find A Lawyer" program for the public after a divided board of governors approved the project last month. But if a consumer is getting a divorce, wants to have a will drafted or has any other problem needing a legal solution, the program may not help - the board refused to allow searches by practice area.

In addition to information already available on the bar's Web site - every California lawyer's name, address, phone number and educational background - visitors to the site will be able to search by languages spoken, see a lawyer's picture and his or her address displayed on a map, and link to an attorney's Web site.

But practice area will not be displayed.

"That's the only part that's user-friendly," objected public member Jeannine English, who urged the board to dump the whole project. "I don't know why we're trying to hide this from the public. It's hypocritical to not allow the public to search by practice area."

"If we're going to do a half-assed version, we shouldn't do it at all," agreed George Davis, another public member.

Although English and Davis were joined by two others in trying to throw out the program, the rest of the board refused to go along.

Find A Lawyer has been in the works for a year, but ran into opposition from local bar associations, who feared it would compete with their lawyer referral services. Executives of California Lawyers' Associations (ECLA), a group representing bar associations, also objected to a searchable online directory. A task force made up of board members and representatives of local bars could not reach consensus.

The sticking point was self-designated specialty, which raised public protection red flags, said Tom Kuhnle, past president of the Santa Clara County Bar Association and a task force member. He argued that permitting a lawyer to declare himself an expert on the State Bar's Web site confers some credibility and gives the appearance that the bar endorses that assertion. Disclaimers saying the bar has not vetted the lawyers' claims are not good enough, he added.

In addition, Kuhnle said a searchable directory meets the definition of a lawyer...

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