January 26, 2022
Author: Lorman Education
Unauthorized practice of law (UPL) is a serious matter with serious consequences. Legal professionals of all type should seek to avoid it at all costs.
What is UPL?
There are three key elements of a UPL:
- You are not a lawyer
- You represent a client in a court
- You charge money for your services
So, if you do not hold a license to practice law, then you cannot provide legal service to a client.
Who can engage in UPL?
UPL does not apply only to paralegals. Other entities such as realtors, accountants, and insurance companies can engage in UPL because they all require references to legal concerns before providing a service.
Licensed lawyers can also engage in UPL. 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 US, 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 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.
How do you avoid UPL?
It is actually quite simple. A paralegal needs to keep in mind that 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, writing legal documents, and even managing the case on a day-to-day basis.
As a paralegal you should also ensure that any prospective client or 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.
For more information
To learn more about paralegal professional compliance or to obtain NALA or NFPA training, browse hundreds of live and ondemand courses in the Lorman course library.