Unauthorized Practice Of Law

Look at how unauthorized practice of law is defined so you understand the boundaries of legal assistant and attorneys.

Unauthorized practice of law is a crucial part of our legal system and how law is administered. Also known as UPL, this topic deserves attention so boundaries in the legal profession can be clearly understood.

In the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct, it states, "A lawyer shall not practice law in a jurisdiction where doing so violates the regulation of the legal profession in that jurisdiction or assist a person who is not a member of the bar in the performance of activity that constitutes the unauthorized practice of law."

What this definition indicates is that attorneys may not practice law where they are not licensed to do so and they may not assist another person in UPL. So for an attorney licensed in only one state, she/he may not practice law in another without appropriate licensure. As for assisting another person with UPL, this would include helping a legal assistant work outside the boundaries of their legal responsibilities as a non-lawyer professional.

The goal of UPL is to protect the public from being subjected to fraudulent practice by persons not qualified to give legal counsel. And when they employ legal assistants they must be cautious not to do anything less than adequately supervise their staff and ensure that UPL is not committed.

UPL does not include lawyers being able to educate other non-lawyer about the law where it is necessary. This is quite different than giving legal counsel which would be more legal advice rather than legal education.

Attorneys can do things to help prevent UPL from occurring, especially within their own practice. Mostly this involves proper supervision of non-lawyer employees. When an attorney delegates responsibility to a legal assistant, great care must be taken that this legal professional knows what the boundaries are.

Lawyers are the only ones who may represent a client in court proceedings for they are the ones with the knowledge and skill necessary to provide competence to a client. The client is also protected by ethical rules which bind the attorney-client privilege as well as confidentiality and other conflicts of interest. The only person other than an attorney who can appear as representation is someone who represents themselves in court.

Attorneys must also be present during depositions which are interviews that can be used in court proceedings. Information obtained from depositions can be crucial to a case.

Pleadings cannot be signed by anyone other than an attorney also. A pleading is considered a written appearance in court that only an attorney can employ.

Attorneys are also the only ones who can give legal advice to clients. Great care must be taken by legal assistants that the information they give to clients does not constitute UPL. The line is very fine and it must not be overstepped or the supervising attorney could lose her license.

Prevention is the key to avoiding UPL. If there is any doubt in the mind of someone not authorized to practice law, then questions should be asked to clarify and avoid any serious consequences.

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