Paralegal Ethics and Unauthorized Practice of Law: Staying Out of Trouble

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Handsome lawyer in the law libraryIf you are not an attorney but you represent a client during legal proceedings in court and charge that client for your services, this is UPL or “unauthorized practice of law.” If you do not have a license to practice law, it is illegal for you to provide legal services to clients.

Note that this does not strictly apply to paralegals, but to other professions such as accountants, realtors, and insurance providers among others. It also covers licensed attorneys since according to ABA’s Rule 5.5, lawyers are only allowed to practice law that is specifically within their jurisdiction.

How to avoid unauthorized practice of law

In general, paralegals have all the necessary experience and education required for legal work. However, they could work only under a supervising licensed lawyer.

While the definition of the responsibilities and roles or paralegals differ from one country to the next, here in the U.S. paralegals cannot offer legal services like lawyers and are not considered court officers.

Rules also vary from one state to another. For instance, paralegals in some states could provide legal services as LPO or limited practice officers, an online paralegal degree instructor explains.

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Additionally, the Supreme Court also allows paralegals and other authorized personnel to provide legal services such as completing documents during loan closings, credit extension, and property transfers.

Staying out of trouble

So how do you steer clear of problems? Put simply, you must keep in mind what licensed lawyers do and avoid doing them. These include:

Initiating client-lawyer relationships
The Bottom Line

Essentially, you could perform legal research, fact investigations, preparing exhibits, draft legal documents, and manage cases, which are all duties expected of a paralegal, to avoid committing unauthorized practice of law.

It is also crucial to note that you should make certain that all clients you interact with know that you are a paralegal and that any advice you give them is from your supervising attorney, and not you.