State Bar shuts down Santa Barbara legal firm
NOTE: This article was originally posted Dec. 6 and updated on Dec. 9. The updated version clarifies the reason the firm was shut down and includes quotes from an attorney for National Family Solutions and from the settlement between the firm and the State Bar of California.
The State Bar of California has shut down a legal firm with offices in Santa Barbara and Goleta because it was not authorized to practice law in the state.
Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Thomas P. Anderle granted the State Bar’s request in November to assume jurisdiction over National Family Solutions and allow the bar association to seize client files, freeze business-related bank accounts, disable the firm’s phone numbers and websites, and redirect its correspondence to the State Bar.
National Family Solutions was founded in Santa Barbara and also had offices in Los Angeles. The firm was owned by its founders, Eric Campbell and Anita Youabian, who employed four licensed attorneys as independent contractors. Neither owner has a license to practice law in California, and their firm was not a licensed law corporation.
In a legal settlement signed in November by the firm’s owners and a State Bar official, Campbell and Youabian acknowledged National Family Solutions was not authorized to practice law. The settlement also states that Campbell and Youabian themselves “did not dispense legal advice, engage in document selection, or perform legal research on behalf of their clients.”
According to an attorney for Campbell and Youabian, the problem was a matter of corporate structure — National Family Solutions was a limited liability corporation, while California law only allows law corporations and partnerships, legal aid nonprofits and a few other types of entities to practice law, and specifically bans LLCs from engaging in legal practice. The attorneys hired by National Family Solutions were providing legal advice to clients, so the firm should have been structured as a law corporation.
“It would not have made any difference if the owners of the company were licensed attorneys,” Richard Lubetzky, their attorney, said in an email to the Business Times.
When Campbell and Youabian started the company in 2008, in Santa Barbara, their attorneys told them the LLC structure was appropriate, Lubetzky said.
In a Dec. 1 news release, the State Bar said the Better Business Bureau received “dozens of complaints” about National Family Solutions. The firm was also under investigation by the Santa Barbara District County Attorney’s Office and had ignored warnings from the bar association starting in 2018, the State Bar said.
“National Family Solutions sought to profit by promising vulnerable victims legal services it was not authorized to provide,” George Cardona, chief trial counsel of the State Bar, said in the news release. “The State Bar is committed to shutting down businesses that persist in such practices.”
Through their attorney, Campbell and Youabian disputed that characterization. The firm cooperated with the district attorney’s office, and that office never told the founders there was a problem with their business model, Lubetzky said.
The Better Business Bureau complaints represented only a small fraction of the firm’s clients, Lubetzky said. As of Dec. 9, the firm had 60 complaints, 38 of which had been closed or resolved. Its average rating was of 1.6 out of 5 stars, based on 20 customer reviews, but before it was shut down, it had an “A” rating from the BBB.