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?
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.