What If Anyone Could Give Legal Advice? (Part 3)

Imagine if all Unauthorized Practice of Law statutes magically disappeared overnight, allowing anyone to give legal advice. What would happen? I’ve already speculated that the poor and the middle class would probably benefit more than be hurt by such a change.

But how would people and organizations that can easily afford attorneys respond to this change? I suspect they wouldn’t behave much differently than they do now. The current system works for them, so why change anything?

Doing Just Fine, Thanks

I don’t know many wealthy people, but I suspect they see lawyers in a more positive light than middle-income people generally do. If you have a lot of money, you need to protect it and figure out what will happen to it when you die. Like everyone else, the rich get married, have kids, and get divorced, but there’s a lot more money at stake. The wealthy probably think of their lawyers the way we think of our dentists—someone we see regularly to make sure everything is going well and to prevent future problems. The middle class think of lawyers as those people you have to hire for a lot of money when things have really gotten bad. The poor don’t think about lawyers much at all, since they can’t afford them.

And the wealthy can not only afford lawyers, they can afford the most expensive lawyers. While the fact that a lawyer charges high fees doesn’t guarantee good work, the wealthy refer good lawyers to each other just like middle class people do, and warn each other about the bad lawyers. So, good high-fee lawyers stay busy.

Big Business Wants BigLaw

While would-be entrepreneurs would certainly seek to benefit from advice from experts that don’t happen to be lawyers, businesses like large publicly-held corporations would continue to hire big law firms to handle their legal needs. When a company spends several million dollars a year just on printer paper, it isn’t going to give a non-lawyer expert a chance to handle the litigation if that contract for paper turns into a disaster.

Given the continuing flow of wealth (and its accompanying influence) toward the already-wealthy, the fact that the wealthy and powerful would not have to change the way they handle their legal business perhaps makes the notion of opening up the business of legal advice to anyone seem not quite so crazy after all.

Next week: What Effect on Lawyers?

(photo: Shutterstock)


  1. Avatar Ruth says:

    Dear Andy,
    I am so glad you have started this dialogue. I work for the Florida Association of Legal Document Preparers, which is a trade association. In Florida, UPL is a third degree felony, yep right up there with grand theft auto and sales of a controlled substance. Needless to say, as nonlawyers we are as careful as we can possibly be to avoid even the appearance of the unauthorized practice of law. Unfortunately, the Florida Bar and the Florida Supreme Court have never clearly defined the practice of law, much less the unauthorized practice of law.

    The working definitions are like — I don’t know what it [UPL] is, but I know it when I see it. Or, the practice of law is anything that a lawyer might do. Really?

    At the same time as the Florida Bar and the Supreme Court would prefer nonlawyers did not exist, Florida recognizes nonlawyers in that nonlawyers are required to provide their customers with a specific disclosure; and use specific Supreme Court approved forms.

    We help a lot of people that could never afford an attorney. If not for the services of a legal document preparer, many of our customers would go without any help at all.

  2. Ruth, thanks so much for your comment. UPL a felony? That’s insane. And you’re absolutely right that it’s impossible to craft any useful definition of the practice of law.

    • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

      Are you saying UPL laws are arbitrary and capricious?

      In my practice, UPL laws have come in handle when going after abusive debt collectors who lie and say they are lawyers as a way to intimidate people. For that reason, I wouldn’t like to see the laws go away, but I certainly understand how hard it can be to interpret “stuff lawyers do.”

      • Avatar Ruth says:

        I think UPL laws should be used for exactly that purpose. When someone who is not an attorney, poses as an attorney — absolutely — as far as I know, that’s fraud, and there should be criminal charges attached.

      • While I’m glad you’ve found UPLs useful, it seems to me that if anyone could give legal advice, the intimidation factor of being a “lawyer” would start to fade. As it should, in my opinion. And I don’t think laws are arbitrary and capricious, but judges can be, as can legislators. I think UPLs are more a way to keep legal advice-giving an exclusive, closed shop and less a way to protect the public.

        • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

          I wonder if the prestige/intimidation factor of being a lawyer would fade. If there is less reason to get a law degree, it might make those who do more sought after and well-respected by those who appreciate their expertise.

          • Avatar Andy Mergendahl says:

            I would have no objection to lawyers being certified by a state bar or the ABA. Then statutes making it a crime to lie about being certified would make sense. I just think lifting the restriction on “giving advice” (which we can’t define anyway) would do much more good than harm.

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