[FoRK] Pro Se vs. Unauthorized Practice of Law

Stephen D. Williams <sdw at lig.net> on Sat Aug 11 22:03:09 PDT 2007

I have found my windmill to tilt at.  Or another one in any case.

To avoid burying the lead, here is the punchline:

It is now on my todo queue to get Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL) 
statutes declared unconstitutional.  They may still make sense in a much 
more narrow form but clearly they currently restrict my rights to 
represent myself which, as the Virginia Bar notes below, is "an 
inalienable right common to all natural persons".  Framed as valid 
because "no one has the right to represent another" and assiduously 
denied as a strategy for "preservation of economic benefits for 
lawyers", these laws clearly inhibit self representation and uniquely 
benefit attorneys.  UPL laws clearly limit access to useful information 
to the general public, who are all pro se in some sense, and they 
clearly infringe on first amendment rights to publish and speak about 
valid knowledge and opinion and to have access to and hear that 
knowledge or opinion.  They significantly harm the public by increasing 
costs, decreasing knowledge, and often preventing redress for many 
wrongs people suffer due to the resulting costs of litigation.  There 
are quite a number of things to argue about related to this.

This has been building as I have learned more about representing myself 
in the legal system.  You can represent yourself and you can, 
eventually, find a lot of information that is needed.  Constantly 
however you find that details are hidden or unavailable to 
non-attorneys.  Additionally, there are some significant cases where you 
simply cannot represent yourself.  One example in Virginia is that a 
corporation cannot be represented by a non-attorney.  Since I own 100% 
of my corporation, I take significant offense to that.  (Virginia 
differentiates between natural persons and legal persons (corporations) 
but when a natural person has 100% ownership, I argue this distinction 
is invalid.)

The Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL) statutes, enacted in the 1920s 
and 1930s, and now present in every state except Arizona, are very 
strict and broad about making even discussion of legal knowledge the 
exclusive purview of state-licensed attorneys.  Furthermore, there is an 
insidious lack of available information because attorney's have no 
reason to help, and in fact are actively prevented from being a party to 
a UPL, and non-attorneys with legal knowledge are mostly prevented from 
sharing that knowledge effectively. 

This document from the Virginia State Bar's Standing Committee on 
Unauthorized Practice of Law is a good example:

"The right of individuals to represent themselves is an inalienable 
right common to all natural persons.  But no one has the right to 
represent another; it is a privilege to be granted and regulated by law 
for the protection of the public."

"By statute, any person practicing law without being duly authorized or 
licensed is guilty of a misdemeanor."

"With the increase in complexity of our society and its laws, the 
independence and integrity of a strong legal profession, devoted 
disinterestedly to those requiring legal services, are crucial to a free 
and democratic society.  Allegiance to this principle, rather than the 
preservation of economic benefits for lawyers, is the basis upon which 
the Virginia State Bar, as the administrative agency of the Supreme 
Court of Virginia, carries forward the responsibility for the discipline 
of lawyers and the investigation of persons practicing law in the 
Commonwealth without proper authority."

In some periods, especially in America, people often or always 
represented themselves:

Hard to tell when I'll get around to researching this enough to file.  
Does anyone want to help?


More information about the FoRK mailing list