NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

States Mull Whether Advocates Must Be Lawyers

January 14, 1999

Must those who provide legal services have a law degree? That's a question a number of states are contemplating.

Most states have statutes prohibiting the "unauthorized practice of law," but the limits and applications vary:

  • Florida's Supreme Court has barred nonlawyers from representing investors in securities-arbitration proceedings.
  • An Oregon appeals court upheld a ban on a nonlawyer "legal technician" who offered forms and other information on divorce and bankruptcy issues.
  • A court panel in Texas is investigating a California publisher on the grounds that marketing computer software containing information on how to prepare a will might constitute practicing law without a license.
  • Ohio's Supreme Court last year prohibited a paralegal from representing consumers making an insurance claim arising from an auto accident.

Lawyers are the chief opponents of such public advocates and critics charge their aggressive vigilance stems from a desire to protect their fees. Attorneys, however, contend they are only trying to protect the public from nonprofessionals.

Source: Richard B. Schmitt, "Advocates Act as Lawyers, and States Cry 'Objection!'" Wall Street Journal, January 14, 1999.


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