Is This Unauthorized Practice of Law?

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Is This Unauthorized Practice of Law?

Post by super12345chess » Fri Aug 09, 2019 12:11 pm

A Congressional candidate I'm advising asked me to look at the ballot access laws in our state, and to determine what the requirements are for collecting signatures. I'm wondering whether this would fall in the category of unauthorized law practice. I haven't taken a course on legal ethics yet, so I don't know what the standard is. If it matters, all the other work I've done for the candidate has had nothing to do with the law, and I get paid for my work. This shouldn't require anything sophisticated, just looking at publicly available statutes and regulations, but I'm concerned that this either crosses the line or is in a grey zone I should avoid.


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Re: Is This Unauthorized Practice of Law?

Post by Bingo_Bongo » Fri Aug 09, 2019 12:42 pm

That's going to depend on your state, but it sounds like you're probably treading close to it. I highly doubt you're going to find anyone bar'd on here who will be comfortable giving you legal advice regarding your specific situation, and I especially doubt you're going to find somebody willing to give you a yes/no answer. You should probably check with an attorney in your state about this before proceeding.

This isn't legal advice to your specific situation, but just general background information about what the "practice of law" generally is. Most states define the practice of law very broadly as applying law to a specific fact pattern, but then court decisions obviously are not nearly as broad as that since everyone at some point would then be guilty of the unauthorized practice of law. Some adopt the view that the activity must also require legal skills or special knowledge beyond that of the average non-lawyer. Others look to whether the area is a traditional area of law practice. Some really generous jurisdictions will exempt persons who provide what would otherwise be legal advice so long as the advice is incidental to the primary service they are rendering as long as complicated legal questions aren't involved (ie. under this theory an accountant can provide basic tax law advice, as long as the law is well settled and not complicated). But, it's really all over the map.

So, it really depends on how your state's ethics rules define it, and how your courts interpret the likely really broad rules.

As an aside, you can probably find this (really basic) information about collecting signatures on your secretary of elections website somewhere. It's probably on a public webpage, or in some sort of guide they put out for lay people and candidates to read. I don't imagine you'd have to go treading through statutes and other legal source material. Is there a reason you can't just find a publication that the government has put out explaining the signature collecting requirements and show it to him? That type of research any Joe Schmoe could do is almost certainly fine.


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Re: Is This Unauthorized Practice of Law?

Post by Barrred » Fri Aug 09, 2019 1:09 pm

[This isnt legal advice, but]: Because, as others have stated, the research question is so simple, it really sounds like hes asking you to research something that he would ordinarily ask a non-lawyer to research. The fact that you're a law student shouldn't prohibit you from doing work that non-lawyers in your same position would ordinarily do. (For example, if you are an intern for a sitting Congressman and he asks you to look up the history of some piece of legislation, do you need to refuse on account of not being a lawyer, when this type of task is regularly carried out by undergraduate interns?)

If I were you, i'd make it clear to the candidate that you are happy to do some online research into the question, but that you cant offer any legal advice on the topic and you don't have any specialized knowledge in this area. If it turns out that the question is harder than it seems (i.e., it requires more than just looking up the rule on the Secretary of State's website), just decline to opine on the answer and tell him that he should probably consult with someone more knowledgable (like an election lawyer). A safe option might be to consult someone from your law school (maybe the career services office, or a dean you trust). Bottom line: Dont let your boss pressure you to do something you arent comfortable with, but also dont overthink this.


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Re: Is This Unauthorized Practice of Law?

Post by jasofbase2001 » Sat Aug 17, 2019 10:12 am

I’d do it without second thought, personally.

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