California Governor Jerry Brown has vetoed Assembly Bill 888, which would have given the State Bar of California additional incentive to pursue civil lawsuits against those it considered to be engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.If the bill had been signed into law, the bar would have allowed the awarding of attorneys fees to the br when it successfully sued its economic competitors. Service providers such as legal document assistants, tax preparers, and financial planners would have all faced a strong disincentive to provide their services to consumers, under threat of a lawsuit from the bar and the possibliity of paying both damages and lawyers' fees should they lose such a suit.
Responsive Law led the effort against passage of AB 888. Its testimony led to amendments to the bill which would have required money the State Bar received from UPL cases to go toward victim restitution, rather than to the general treasury of the State Bar. However, the bill still did not require a showing of actual consumer harm for a court to find that UPL had occurred. Since Responsive Law believes that any UPL case that does not involve consumer harm is merely economic protectionism for lawyers, we refused to drop our opposition to the bill. Governor Brown's veto message noted that the State Bar and state and local prosecutors already have sufficient power to enforce UPL law, indicating agreement with our position that this bill was a power grab by the State Bar, and not an honest attempt to protect consumers.