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UPL or Unauthorized Practice of Law is often one of the most dreaded terms for paralegals and attorneys alike. While the logical reason for this is that Unauthorized Practice of Law frequently results in the individual losing his or her credentials to practice, the additional factor is that states radically differ in what they deem Unauthorized Practice of Law.
In order for a paralegal to avoid potential repercussions, it is essential that she familiarize herself with the term as it is defined by the particular state in which she lives. Most states in America conclude that Unauthorized Practice of Law covers any legal advice or legal services which are rendered by anyone other than a practicing attorney. Such states require that any work or duties which are carried out by a paralegal must be done under the supervision of a practicing attorney, or acting on his knowledgeable behalf.
There are very few states which take a more lenient view of this subject. For example, California is one of the few states which allows for document preparation by non-attorneys. As long as the paralegal is not wrongfully misrepresenting herself as an attorney, or taking an attorney's role in court proceedings, she can earn a very comfortable living providing such basic services as preparing the documents for divorce proceedings and similar types of cases. Most states in America, however, do not go this far, and can legally prosecute a person who does this type of work for being Unauthorized Practice of Law.
The best way of finding out what the status of UPL is in your particular state of residence is to thoroughly investigate the facts. While preparing court documents, Wills, and other such services to the community can be an excellent business, obviously that is not the case if the state where you live considers it to be a crime. Some states are very clear as to what constitutes UPL, while others are vague enough in their definition that you in turn must be very clear in finding the facts. As there are serious penalties for UPL, it is in a paralegal's best interests to be completely knowledgeable about her state's specific laws on the subject, and to adhere to them one hundred percent.
If you work in a law firm or in an individual attorney's private practice, it is also wise to be aware of UPL. While the job consists of doing many tasks which are delegated to you by the attorney, you must be aware that his discretion does not include crossing the very fine line into Unauthorized Practice of Law.
Actually, in many cases, the responsibility for this falls more on the paralegal herself than on the attorney. In other words, if he is asking you to carry out a task in his behalf, you must know for sure in advance that a paralegal has the authority to do it. It does occasionally happen that an attorney loses his own license to practice law simply by assigning a task to a paralegal that she does not actually have the authority to do.
Whether you plan to work for an attorney, a law firm, or investigate the possibility of providing services, it is essential that you get the facts beforehand.