State Bar Seizes Unauthorized Santa Barbara Law Practice
This story was originally published by the Santa Barbara Independent and is reproduced here in partnership with Edhat.
By Tyler Hayden of The Independent
The State Bar of California announced Wednesday it has seized an “unauthorized law practice” operating as National Family Solutions out of offices in Santa Barbara, Goleta, and Los Angeles.
Neither of the firm’s owners, Eric Campbell and Anita Youabian, has a license to practice law in California, the Bar said, and the company’s contracted lawyers and legal document assistants had repeatedly tried to evade the state’s regulatory system governing attorneys, “including requirements for the use of client trust accounts and prohibitions on taking unearned fees.”
“National Family Solutions sought to profit by promising vulnerable victims legal services it was not authorized to provide,” said George Cardona, chief trial counsel for the agency. “The State Bar is committed to shutting down businesses that persist in such practices.”
National Family Solutions claimed to offer “low-cost” legal services to self-represented clients in the midst of divorces, child custody cases, and other family law matters. They solicited business through their website and charged clients flat fees of approximately $1,000 or more depending on the case type, plus monthly service charges for access to “case managers” and “legal staff.” Dozens of complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau, however, indicate those services were rarely rendered.
“I contacted National Family Solutions for help with a custody battle against my daughter’s grandmother,” reads one of the complaints lodged May 12, 2021, which omits specific names or exact dollar figures. “[T]he guy who chose to help with my case charged me nearly $****, which I paid in full. Now he doesn’t answer the phone nor does he reply to my emails. He stated that he would email me the documents I needed to serve the other party, which he never sent. Now here I am 4 months later and still I have no knowledge of how I’m supposed to get my daughter back.”
On November 16, Santa Barbara’s Judge Thomas Anderle allowed the State Bar to take control of National Family Solutions’ operations. The state agency froze business-related bank accounts, redirected telephone calls and mail to the State Bar, and seized more than 4,000 client files dating back to 2008.
National Family Solutions had ignored earlier warnings in 2018 by the State Bar that their practices were illegal, the agency also said. The company, run as an LLC, also apparently continued operating despite a pending investigation by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office, which said this Thursday it is still working with the State Bar on the inquiry but has thus far not filed any criminal charges. Attempts to reach owners Campbell and Youabian were not successful.
Richard Lubetzky, an attorney for Campbell and Youabian, emphasized that his clients were never personally accused of practicing law illegally. Their settlement with the court stated they “did not dispense legal advice, engage in document selection, or perform legal research on behalf of their clients.”
Instead, Lubetzky explained, the issue centered on their firm’s corporate model, as California law specifically prohibits LLCs from engaging in legal practice. “The company was enjoined because of its defective corporate structure, which rendered it unlawful for it to continue to operate,” he said in an email. “Indeed, it would not have made any difference if Mr. Campbell and Ms. Youabian were licensed attorneys.” Lubetzky also noted that National Family Solutions had previously been given an A-rating by the Better Business Bureau.
Correction, 12/7/21: The State Bar said in its announcement that lawyers and legal assistants contracted by National Family Solutions, not owners Campbell of Youabian, had attempted to evade California’s regulatory system for attorneys.
Update, 12/9/21: The article’s sub-headline was changed from “National Family Solutions Allegedly Duped Thousands of Clients in the Midst of Divorces and Child Custody Cases” to “National Family Solutions Sought to Profit From Vulnerable Victims, Agency Says”. Comments from attorney Richard Lubetzky have also been added.