Starting a legal career in California was tough enough before the weight of the pandemic came crashing down on the hopes and dreams of aspiring 3Ls just trying to make it out of law school. Looking at the job landscape through the eyes of several local law grads who have started to forge unlikely paths to success gave us a newfound appreciation for the next generation of young litigators. Navigating hiring freezes, juggling multiple part-time legal jobs and working pro bono is just par for the course in today’s unprecedented job market. But we’re happy to report on the generally positive outlook most law grads still had about their futures at the beginning of the year. It also helps that the California Supreme Court approved a proposal to allow anyone who graduates in 2020 to practice with a provisional license, with the requirement that they pass the bar by 2023.
Though the idea of jumping into a position at a BigLaw firm feels like the fantasy most often sold to aspiring lawyers, new solos who come from all walks of life and are looking to make an impact in their community may want to choose a different route. For the LA Incubator Consortium, the goal is to give community-based attorneys the chance to feel what it’s like to learn as a group, yet think for themselves when it actually comes to being a lawyer. Law grads are selected out of law school to join the program spearheaded by founder Maria Hall, who organizes one year of legal training to help new solos build their legal practices and establish their network of peers while serving low-income communities around LA. Above all, Hall says keeping an open mind about career prospects in the gig economy is the best tool for any California lawyer.
The flavor of California’s legal landscape would rarely be considered vanilla — unless Spencer Sheehan is involved. The notorious food litigator known as the “Vanilla Vigilante” came across our radar early this year as he relocated from his native New York to make California to file suits for clients looking to sue over McDonald’s ice cream cones, Trader Joe’s cereal, and Whole Foods almond milk for failing to deliver real, non-synthetic vanilla flavor. Though he’s not always successful, California’s long track record of food litigation makes the Golden State a prime target for Sheehan’s taste in lawsuits.
Last spring, as the hospitality business finally started opening its doors again, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 93 mandating hotel, event center, airport hospitality and janitorial employers to first rehire workers laid off during the pandemic when jobs become available. It seemed like a much-needed win for workers like employees like Walter Almendarez, a bellman at LA’s Chateau Marmont. However, the reality of putting the new bill to work was much trickier for both employers and employees anxious to get their jobs back and move past the pandemic.
One thing the pandemic reminded us: never underestimate the importance of your local tax attorney. With this year’s extended tax deadline came a barrage of unprecedented issues over federal stimulus legislation, unemployment, and pandemic-induced job and residency changes that all required a lot of parsing not easily sorted through TurboTax. As a result, the state’s tax attorneys saw a massive spike in business as they helped businesses and consumers navigate through the muddled mess that was our 2020 tax returns.
In California, you can take away our social lives and our shopping malls and restaurants — but don’t try to get between us and our booze. That sentiment was definitely understood by state lawmakers and agencies in charge of regulating alcohol sales. Offering relief for businesses and consumers, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), which oversees the state’s alcohol licensing and sales issued a notices of regulatory relaxations that would make it easier for restaurants and bars to sell beer, wine, and pre-mixed cocktails/drinks for pick-up and delivery. Other provisions made in SB 314 for outdoor consumption of spirits in makeshift parklets also gave restaurants and patrons hope of having a little shot of normalcy in their lives as the pandemic wears on.
Grassroots organizations continue to play a key role in social justice in California during the pandemic. Through monitoring the day-to-day activities of the local court system, the volunteer observers of Court Watch LA made headlines when it broke news of unsanitary courtroom conditions that led to the COVID-related death of a court interpreter, Sergio Cafaro. Since they started in 2019, the watchdog organization of over 200 members uses their website as well as social media to provide a real-world glimpse into how courts operate and where they fall short.
In a state as ethnically diverse as California, access to justice through interpreters is key. Prior to the pandemic and especially once it hit, statewide language access continues to be a monumental task for the California’s Judicial Council. This past spring, following vaccine rollouts and more than a year of adjusting virtual and courtroom operations, California’s court administrators began to take stock of how the state can improve language access for all court users in the midst of the pandemic.
In California, we love live entertainment that scares us, as long as the frights end when the lights come up and the exit sign appears. Ghastly realities of slip-and-falls, the spread of COVID, or even inappropriate touching of costumed cast members is part of the everyday concern of personal injury lawyers who’ve represented the state’s major theme parks or been on the side of plaintiffs who came to a haunted attraction for a scare and left with a scar. As live entertainment continues to find ways to break out of lockdown, it’s become all the more important for managers of haunted houses to put as much investment into their legal counsel as they do in their ghosts and chainsaw-fueled jump scares.
Of the hundreds of bills signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2021, two laws expanding the legal parameters of reproductive autonomy were the first of their kind in the nation. We traced the origins of SB 374, which added “reproductive coercion” to the definition of “disturbing the peace of the other party” under California’s Domestic Violence Prevention Act, and AB 453 which bans “stealthing”–the removal of a condom without a partner’s verbal consent during sexual intercourse. California signed these bills into law as the national battle over reproductive rights rages in the U.S. Supreme Court over Texas’ ban on almost all abortions, which the high court declined to block. Considering the reproductive rights at stake in the coming year, reproductive rights advocates say this new legislation reaffirms the California’s commitment to reproductive autonomy.
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