The unauthorized practice of law is a means of protecting the public against harm caused by unlicensed individuals practicing Law. In Florida, the Supreme Court of Florida has created a specific program called the Unlicensed Practice of Law (UPL).
What Would be Considered Unauthorized Practice of Law?
Certain things may be considered as UPL; however, it depends on your state’s statute. The following are examples of UPL, this list is not exhaustive: (1) initiating a lawyer-client relationship, (2) providing legal advice, (3) signing pleadings or legal papers on behalf of a client, (4) carrying out legal proceedings in a court of law, or (5) charging a legal fee for legal services.
How Can Paralegals Avoid Conducting Unauthorized Practice of Law?
A paralegal can find themselves operating under the unauthorized practice of law by merely doing things that may seem like a regular, day-to-day, office task. Things such as (1) evaluating client matters, (2) accepting cases, (3) signing clients up with a retainer agreement or engagement letter. These simple day-to-day tasks may cause a paralegal to be operating under the unauthorized practice of law.
Other examples include: (1) representing clients in court, (2) taking depositions, and or (3) signing pleadings and motions. However, some federal and state administrative agencies allow nonlawyer practice; this includes the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the Social Security Administration (SSA), and the United States Trademark and Patent Office (USPTO).
In order to avoid committing the unauthorized practice of law as a paralegal, it is recommended that they: (1) check their state status regarding UPL, (2) ask their local paralegal association, or (3) ask their supervising attorney.
However, as a general norm, paralegals should never: (1) establish an attorney-client relationship, (2) set legal fees, (3) give legal opinions or advice, (4) represent clients in court, and/or (5) engage in, encourage, or contribute to anything that could be considered the unauthorized practice of law.