Tips for Avoiding the Unauthorized Practices of Law

The Paralegal Resource
April 18, 2014 — 3,972 views  
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If you are not a lawyer, yet represent a client, in a court, during a legal proceeding, and charge money for your services, it would be deemed an unauthorized practice of law (UPL). So, if you do not hold a license to practice law, then you cannot provide legal service to a client.

UPL does not apply specifically to paralegals. Other professions, like realtors, accountants, or for that matter, an insurance company come under the gambit of UPL. All these professions require references to legal concerns before providing a service.

UPL also applies to licensed lawyers. Rule 5.5 of the American Bar Association states that lawyers can practice law only within their jurisdiction, and even in that case they cannot violate any regulation set forth in that jurisdiction.

Paralegals and their roles

Paralegals, in most cases, have the necessary education and experience for legal work, but they can only work under a supervising attorney. The definition and the specifics of a paralegal’s roles and responsibilities vary from country to country. In the USA, paralegals aren’t allowed to provide legal services like a lawyer. They aren’t considered officers of court either.

The rules change state-to-state. For example, in Washington paralegals can offer/provide legal services in certain areas as a Limited Practice Officer (LPO). The Supreme Court has authorized non-lawyers (including paralegals) to provide legal services, like completion of documents, in case of loan closings, transfer of property or credit extension.

Avoiding unauthorized practice of law

It is actually quite simple. A paralegal needs to keep in mind that there are certain things only a licensed lawyer is authorized to do. To be precise, there are five things that only a licensed lawyer can do:

  • Initiate a lawyer-client relationship
  • Provide legal advice
  • Any legal papers or pleadings on behalf of the client can only be signed by a lawyer
  • Carry out legal proceedings in a court of law
  • Charge a fee for these legal services

Barring these, a paralegal is free to perform any other task. Paralegals can work on legal research, investigation of facts, getting exhibits ready, write legal documents, and even manage the case on a day-to-day basis.

As a paralegal you should also ensure that any prospective client or, for that matter, any other person you interact with, knows you are a paralegal and not authorized to provide legal advice. If you do provide information that could be construed as legal advice, explicitly mention the source. For example, “Attorney Morris believes that the case can be...” Finally, update the attorney regarding all your work and activities, and ensure your work is reviewed and approved.

The Paralegal Resource