You Can Count on The Bar Association To Recommend A Discriminating Lawyer

Some time ago I wrote a guide about how one should go about cold-calling an attorney for legal services. My lead point was that you shouldn't — that you should choose an attorney based on a reliable referral.

Many state and county bar associations have lawyer referral services. Here's what I said about that:

You might even call the local Bar Association — though in my experience you might as well ask the cat.

Why would I say such a terrible, judgmental, snarky thing about bar association referral services? After all, state and county bars have services that screen attorneys, require them to demonstrate qualifications, and collect complaints from dissatisfied clients. Surely that's better than picking someone out of the phone book, isn't it?

Let's see.

Via tipster Matt, I encountered the tale of a potential client who sought the services of a lawyer skilled in administrative law. The client is not Anglo — which should not be relevant, but is, for reasons you will see. The potential client called the Los Angeles County Bar Association's Lawyer Referral and Information Service (LRIS), which referred the prospective client to a lawyer in the field.

More specifically, LRIS referred the client to an old friend of Popehat — William Daniel Johnson.

I first wrote about Bill Johnson when he ran for Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, and an investigation revealed he had a background as a white nationalist who, using the name "James O. Pace," had proposed the Pace Amendment. The Pace Amendment goes like this:

No person shall be a citizen of the United States unless he is a non-Hispanic white of the European race, in whom there is no ascertainable trace of Negro blood, nor more than one-eighth Mongolian, Asian, Asia Minor, Middle Eastern, Semitic, Near Eastern, American Indian, Malay or other non-European or non-white blood, provided that Hispanic whites, defined as anyone with an Hispanic ancestor, may be citizens if, in addition to meeting the aforesaid ascertainable trace and percentage tests, they are in appearance indistinguishable from Americans whose ancestral home is in the British Isles or Northwestern Europe. Only citizens shall have the right and privilege to reside permanently in the United States.

Mr. Johnson has been referred to as a white supremacist; the Southern Poverty Law Center calls him a white nationalist or white separatist. When his past came out he was repudiated by Ron Paul's organization and lost the judicial election, notwithstanding embarrassingly incompetent coverage by my hometown paper. Since then he became Chairman of something called the America Third Position. That organization has rebranded itself as the American Freedom Party and cloaks itself in broad libertarian language, but is run by people with white supremacist, white nationalist, and white separatist backgrounds.

The potential client in this case discovered Mr. Johnson's background when she Googled them. Let me emphasize she does not suggest that any racial attitude marred her interaction with him — she says he turned down her case on its merits.

It's entirely possible that Mr. Johnson is a very competent lawyer. It's possible that he separates his professional and political lives, and is dedicated to representing non-white clients as vigorously as white clients. He has no history of bar discipline and there's no indication that anyone has complained to LRIS about him. But I find no indication that he has repudiated his racial views — it seems instead that he declines to discuss them in other contexts.

But it's disconcerting to call a bar association referral service — a service that screens lawyers — and be referred to a lawyer who has prominently advocated that you should be excluded from United States citizenship based on your ethnic background.

I called LRIS and spoke with its director, who was very professional and open. He indicated that LIRS does not have any separate non-discrimination statement to which applicants must adhere; it relies on existing State Bar rules prohibiting discriminatory conduct. He was aware of no complaints about Mr. Johnson.

My blogger snark aside, state and local bar associations do perform a service by screening lawyers before referring clients to them. That process does weed out some unqualified lawyers, and does establish some baseline for competence and experience.

The question is this: is it a baseline upon which you should rely?

I maintain that there is no substitute for a referral from someone you trust to someone they trust. The imprimatur of a bar association might not mean what you expect.

Edited to add: What do you know. I totally missed that Mr. Johnson ran for Congress in 2012 in Michigan, this time under the name Daniel Johnson. You can hear his robocall about the future of the white race here.

Second Edit: I did not see that Sam Glover had already talked about this.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. bacchys says

    This will sound snarky, and it largely is, but wouldn't it be a violation of anti-discrimination laws for the Bar to not recommend Mr. Johnson (Pace) on the basis of his creed?

  2. says

    Assuming the Rule of Professional Responsibility linked above applied to the Bar Association's selection of which attorneys to recommend — a big assumption — it would not, because the Rule does not list "creed" or viewpoint.

  3. says

    IANAL, but, as far as I know:
    a)Political (as opposed to religious) beliefs are not a "protected class". You can refuse to hire Communists, Republicans, or Greens, if you wish. At least, I think that's the case.

    b)Most anti-discrimination statutes include caveats where the discrimination is directly related to the job requirements — this is why someone hiring for a specific acting role, say, can specify "A white male, age 40-50, over 6' tall", while you can't have the same requirements to hire, I dunno, the guy who brings the coffee to the set. In the case of being a lawyer, I think a "reasonable man" would agree that "expressing the belief that Hispanics are not entitled to the rights of citizens" is a quality which would directly impact job performance when the client is Hispanic, and it's reasonable to discriminate against hiring a lawyer who holds those views.

    I welcome correction if my assumptions about the current state of anti-discrimination law is incorrect.

    On the flip side, it's extremely common for the ACLU, and other civil liberties organizations, to defend clients whose views they utterly oppose.

  4. MattS says

    What do you do if you don't know anyone you would trust who has used a lawyer in the area you need one for?

  5. says

    MattS – I am an ERISA specialist, and most of my cases come from referrals from other lawyers. Most of the clients don't know any ERISA lawyers. In fact they usually don't know their problem is an ERISA problem.

    What usually happens is that they call a lawyer they do know, who refers them to a "bad faith" lawyer, who realizes the case is an ERISA case and gets them pointed in the right direction. In a lot of cases I am the third or fourth lawyer the client has spoken to, and they are relieved to find someone who takes these sorts of cases.

    So the answer is just to be persistent and keep asking for a referral. Eventually you will get to the right place.

  6. tsrblke says

    Interesting Ken,

    I will say I took your advice on not cold calling a lawyer when looking for a Lawyer myself (just an Estate Attorney for basic estate planning mixed with some other generic goodness.)
    Luckily I have a few friends who graduated from Law school who not only recommended a lawyer but put in a phone call to him as well to tell him to expect my call (which due to some time constraint's hasn't happened yet.) I trust my friend though I doubt he'd steer me wrong.

  7. says

    The bar referral's "baseline" often is: (A) are you licensed in this state, and (B) did you check the area of practice box for which we are referring.

    Personally, I have three groups of referrals: (1) existing clients or people who have been directly referred to me are referred to someone I know and trust; (2) cold callers who I can't help for one reason or another are referred to the bar association or a general practice law firm; (3) lunatics, the deluded, and malpractice-suits-in-waiting are referred to those I disdain. As a patent attorney, I get a ton of #3.

  8. Angel says

    I'm the OP of that reddit post. In my comments, I said that even if he is a competent attorney, why would I want to hire him no matter what my race is? (English is my first language so Johnson wasn't tipped off to the fact that I'm not white)

    Los Angeles County Bar Association didn't get back to me after I complained about that referral and I still need an attorney…

  9. James Pollock says

    Thought police. If [attorney with weird/unpopular opinion[s]] has been able to handle legal work with no complaints about quality of the legal work, SHOULD the referral agency (whether inside or outside the bar) consider [weird/unpopular opinion[s]] when making a referral? If so, how should they be taken into account?
    Further: If [attorney with weird/unpopular opinion[s]] makes requests that referrals be limited in accordance with [weird/unpopular opinion[s]] should that request be honored?
    Finally, what about legitimate restrictions in taking on cases that might look like they're based on [weird/unpopular opinion[s]], but aren't?

  10. James Pollock says

    "What do you do if you don't know anyone you would trust who has used a lawyer in the area you need one for?"

    Pro Se?

  11. Dan Weber says

    Any attempt by the bar association to determine who is a "good" lawyer based on anything but extremely dry stats will be a cluster-fudge.

    Which is why the bar association is such a weird place to find a lawyer.

  12. says

    James, if an existing institutional (read: bill-paying) client wants legal help in an area I don't practice, and the only attorney I know of who does that niche work is an offensive socioeconomic discriminator, I'm going to bust my butt to find someone else capable of helping, even if that weird/unpopular opinion attorney has been competent and complaint-free.

  13. AlphaCentauri says

    Can anyone come up with an example of his legal writing when he's not talking about racist nonsense? Even if you were to start with the assumption that there is some valid reason not to have non-Europeans in North America, that Pace Amendment still doesn't hang together logically.

  14. naught_for_naught says

    When I was a young pisser growing up in El Monte, Jeff Levy was the guy — Heavy Levy as he was known. And before I discovered the error of my ways I had an opportunity to retain Mr. Levy in a minor criminal matter. This was based on his reputation and accomplishments as recounted by my peers, "I'm telling you Homes, he got Mental back his guns and everything!".

    Seriously, anybody who could get the Temple City Sheriffs to return guns to a person known as Mental had to have some serious legal voodoo working for him. So I threw my trust into meaty by capable hands. Unfortunately Mr. Levy never make it to court as he was otherwise detained having been caught with a trunk full of cocaine at the Citrus Municipal Court. Ah, fate is a harsh mistress. Anyway, I would go on to better things and Mr. Levy would too, reincarnating himself as the host of a tech-talk radio program, after a reasonable period of incarceration.

    The point of this little tale is this: a referral is only as good as the judgment of the person giving the referral, and if you find yourself making life decisions based on what a guy named Mental did, finding a good attorney is probably the least of your problems.

  15. C. S. P. Schofield says

    For my money Mr. Johnson is disqualified to act as my lawyer in any respect by the following " in whom there is no ascertainable trace of Negro blood", on the grounds that there are two types of caucasians who assert that they have no Negro blood. Fools, and liars. I don't want a lawyer who is either.

  16. AlphaCentauri says

    I notice that there is a theme in his diatribes that implies we need to protect white people from other ethnic groups who can out-compete them: Jews are genetically better at success, Blacks are stronger, the percentage of white people in the US is declining, etc. There's a strong theme of self-loathing there. We need to be legally declared the best race because all the better other ones are better than us.

    Johnson is (or at least was) a Mormon who majored in Japanese and did his missionary work in Japan. It's an odd choice for someone who doesn't want the races to interact. He probably had some culture shock, going from a supportive community of people like himself to a culture of people who support each other but considered him an outsider.

  17. C. S. P. Schofield says


    Maybe exposure to Japan's strongly racist culture has something to do with it. The Japanese are more polite about it than the average Klansman, but they aren't much less racist. Check out the treatment of the Burakumin and the Ainu.

  18. AlphaCentauri says

    @C.S.P.: Yes, that's what I was hinting at. To go from the protected cocoon of a Mormon community with the idea of saving the world, then to spend a couple years with people who think you're racially inferior, not everyone would come through that experience a better person.

  19. AlphaCentauri says

    Not to mention that the Mormons consider earthly success to be an indication of divine favor, and Johnson seems to be a complete loser. Trying to promote Mormonism — which at the time, was explicitly racist — to Asians would not have been a pursuit that would have made him feel very competent, either. Being a loser, he wants the rules changed in his favor instead of re-examining himself and his goals.

  20. Rosenkranz says

    Ken you sound very discriminating yourself. Are you a member of the "Tolerance Taliban"??

  21. says

    Absolutely. Just like the Taliban, if I disagree with someone, I ruthlessly talk about them. It's more than some can bear.