Unauthorized Practice of Law: What’s a Paralegal-To-Be Got To Do With It?

Books on Law

Your journey toward becoming a paralegal is not without hearing the term “UPL” every now and then. UPL (unauthorized practice of law) may be part of your Introduction to Paralegal Studies classes, law management course, and paralegal ethics course — practically all the courses you take.

Its appearance on all of your paralegal courses online and offline means one thing: understanding of the subject matter is important.

Understanding the UPL

Unauthorized practice of law occurs when an individual does not have the legal license to practice law or even offer legal advice. The policy applies to paralegals, too.

In most states, UPL is a felony case; for others, it is mere disciplinary matter. To get a better grasp of your state’s take on the matter, you can ask the local paralegal association or check the state’s statutes.

As a new or aspiring paralegal, doing research is not the only task you need to perform. You also need to learn about recent changes to the law or have knowledge of local paralegal associations.

How States Define the Practice of Law

While each state has its own definition of authorized law practices, it’s not always clear. In most cases, state law does not explain UPL in detail; what counts as unauthorized or not remains a blur to some practicing paralegals.

Fortunately, the NALA’s Model Standards and Guidelines for the Utilization of Paralegals gives a brief but informative summary of activities paralegals should never do, including:

  • Set your personal legal fees
  • Establish the attorney-client relationship
  • Offer legal advice or opinion
  • Represent clients in court, except administrative courts

Legal Advice: Your Role

Paralegal experience from school and on-the-job provides you with a good grasp of the legal world. Naturally, family, friends, and acquaintances may want your opinion.

To answer them is tempting; after all, you’re just helping out.  But it’s one thing to be the armchair lawyer during light discussions or matters outside the school or firm. It’s another thing, however, to have your advice affect other individual’s legal rights. You’re not only potentially harming that individual, but also putting your career as a paralegal at risk.

As a future paralegal, you will have an important role that affects the lives of others. Avoiding UPL now keeps you from making mistakes that will impact your career, the lawyers you support, and their clients.