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Should the ABA Attack the 'Unauthorized' Practice of Law?

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. | Last updated on

Many attorneys believe that the unauthorized practice of law is something that can both hurt a lawyer's business and consumers.

LegalZoom, a provider of legal forms and documents like wills, recently settled a class action lawsuit originating in Missouri. Missouri alleged that LegalZoom violated a law prohibiting non-attorneys from preparing legal documents.

And that's only the tip of the iceberg.

More recently, LegalZoom has launched an attack on the North Carolina bar, filing suit asking for the court to declare that they are legally allowed to sell their documents on the Internet. They also claim that North Carolina improperly accused them of the unauthorized practice of law.

What constitutes the "practice of law" is still a definition that's in flux. Different states define the term in different ways.

The American Bar Association even created its own proposed model rules to define what is the unauthorized practice of law.

Except, their definition wasn't exactly the most clear-cut. The proposed rule would have defined the "practice of law" the as the application of legal principles that require the "knowledge and skill of a person trained in the law." But what about a person giving another person advice on speeding tickets? Or someone who has gone through a foreclosure process helping out a friend? Their knowledge doesn't require legal training.

There is also debate about what a harsher attack on unauthorized practice of law would accomplish.

In their comment letter to the proposed ABA rule, the DOJ and FTC had an interesting argument: some consumers might prefer legal document software or forms over an attorney.

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