What Is the Unauthorized Practice of Law?
North Carolina statutes limit the practice of law to active members of The North Carolina State Bar and to professional corporations properly registered and qualified as law firms. N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 84-4 and 84-5. The Authorized Practice Committee is a standing committee of the State Bar charged with investigating and acting upon allegations of unauthorized practice of law. The Rules of The North Carolina State Bar state, “[t]he purpose of the committee on the authorized practice of law is to protect the public from being unlawfully advised and represented in legal matters by unqualified persons.” 27 N.C. Admin. Code 1D § .0201.
Allegations of unauthorized practice of law are sent to staff counsel for the Authorized Practice Committee. Staff counsel for the Committee is a designated attorney within the State Bar's Office of Counsel. Staff counsel reviews the allegation. If the allegation raises unauthorized practice of law issues, staff counsel sends a letter of notice to the person or entity involved asking for a response to the allegation. Staff counsel may also conduct additional investigation, as needed. Staff counsel prepares a report of counsel for the Committee, presenting the materials from the complainant and the respondent, any investigative findings, and a proposed course of action for the Committee's consideration. The Committee determines whether there is probable cause to believe that unauthorized practice has occurred and how the State Bar should respond. The powers and duties of the Committee are listed at 27 N.C. Admin. Code 1D § .0206.
Unauthorized practice of law allegations have increased over the last few years. While some complaints of unauthorized practice of law reflect an attempt to gain an advantage of an opposing party in litigation or in a personal matter, other complaints manifest the victimization of members of the public that the unauthorized practice of law statutes were meant to prevent. People with limited funds are often those who seek legal services from non-attorneys in an effort to save money. The non-attorneys typically act in a manner detrimental to the legal rights and obligations of those hiring them, leaving those who can least afford it with a legal mess in what, in many cases, should have been a simple matter.
Assistance with the preparation of legal documents is an area in which this victimization commonly occurs. Bankruptcy debtors receive bad advice from non-attorneys helping them fill out bankruptcy forms. Couples seeking to obtain a simple divorce are misled by internet document preparation services about the legal grounds and requirements for divorce. Members of the growing Hispanic population are led astray by non-attorneys who claim they can help Hispanic individuals become American citizens.
The conduct of non-attorneys involved with residential real estate closings is another area of concern. The State Bar has recognized that non-attorneys can provide certain limited administrative services for residential real estate closings. As paralegals, notaries, and settlement service companies seek to do business in this area, however, many seem to exceed the limitations on their services by drafting legal documents and providing legal advice. These issues have received, and will continue to receive, scrutiny by the Committee.
Pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 84-2.2, all persons, firms, or companies that operate a website that offers consumers access to interactive software that generates a legal document based on the consumer’s answers to questions presented by the software that complies with the requirements of the statute must register with the North Carolina State Bar by completing a Website Document Provider Registration before commencing operation in North Carolina.
Guidelines for Out of State Attorneys
Authorized Practice Advisory Opinions