by the nature of the services they provide.
In many states, simply offering blank legal forms for sale which the purchaser must
decipher and complete is considered legitimate. However, where a company advises the purchaser on how to complete the forms, or provides strategy for dealing with a particular case, that company may cross a legal boundary.
A second source of unauthorized practice complaints is related to services provided by paralegals. There are many paralegals competing for relatively few jobs, especially in rural communities, because paralegal study programs are now commonplace. Thus,
while paralegals' responsibilities used to be restricted to organizing documents and performing other administrative tasks, they are increasingly tasked with dealing
directly with clients. ATLA describes this as "pushing the paralegal envelope." When paralegals cross the line into providing advice to clients, or acting without attorney supervision, as some self-employed paralegals do, then an unauthorized practice of law scenario may exist. Some independent paralegal firms have been successfully sued by state bar associations and forced to disband.
Finally, it seems that some people who lack the most basic legal education, knowledge, and ethics, are providing traditional legal services. These cases run the
gamut from the helpful neighbor, to the unscrupulous debt collector, to the outright criminal. In a recent South Carolina case, a court found that an insurance agent who assisted her friend by drafting a will and power of attorney using pre-printed legal forms
from a commercial source was practicing law without a license. In 1967, a Kentucky court determined that similar conduct warranted the imposition of a fine because of the danger posed to society. In Kentucky, notaries public have been charged with the unauthorized practice of law for preparing deeds. Persons acting as private investigators have also been found guilty of unlawful practice where they rendered
legal advice in personal injury cases and divorces. And in a 1967 case originating in Somerset, a man who typed a contract for the sale of land between a buyer and
eller was found guilty of contempt for the unauthorized practice of law.
It is also common for suspended or disbarred lawyers to continue to perform legal work under the guise of a paralegal or law clerk. According to the American Bar Association, one defrocked Colorado lawyer was hired back by his former associates following
disbarment and was actually supervising his old firm. Such unethical conduct, by both the disbarred lawyer and those who assisted him in perpetuating his fraud, is particularly egregious and may invite criminal punishment. In some cases, criminal punishment is the only appropriate sanction. Earlier this year, the Cook County Sheriff's Office arrested a Chicago man who had been impersonating an attorney for over a year, representing clients in criminal court and at administrative hearings. Imposters sometimes pose as attorneys to get into jails to visit clients and sometimes pose as state or federal prosecutors. In these instances, the offender faces far more severe
consequences than being held in contempt.
Where an issue involves legal knowledge or advice, only a licensed attorney in good standing with the state bar can lawfully assist. Anyone else who endeavors to do so, however well-intentioned, may be engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.