For many legal problems, when it’s affordable, a lawyer is the best person to go to for help. However, for simpler problems, or when there’s no money for a lawyer, people need non-lawyer alternatives.

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Limited-Practice Licenses


The medical profession has long recognized that not every patient needs to see a doctor. Nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, midwives, and pharmacists all can expertly – and independently – handle medical issues within their fields. They also can recognize when a doctor is needed.

In contrast, the legal profession has resisted the simple truth that not every legal question needs to be handled by an attorney. In most states, there are no intermediate level professionals to help people who cannot help themselves, but whose problems are not complicated enough to need a lawyer.

In California and Arizona, legal document assistants (LDAs) are licensed by the state to perform document preparation services directly to clients. The state of Washington is developing a system that would allow licensed non-lawyers to perform a broader range of legal services for customers.

Responsive Law supports these innovative programs and other limited-practice licenses. For example, a state could allow social workers to handle certain legal matters in family law either on the basis of their social work license alone or with additional testing requirements. Or states could grant licenses for limited legal practice after one or two years of law school rather than the current three-year requirement..


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Barriers to Non-Lawyer Help


In most states, lawyers have established rules against the unauthorized practice of law (“UPL”). Ostensibly, these rules are designed to protect consumers from people taking advantage of them by falsely claiming to be a lawyer. However, these laws do little to protect consumers from scam artists and do a lot to protect lawyers from competition.

Many of these laws are incredibly broad in describing the type of information and services that people can provide to consumers. The bottom line is usually, “If lawyers do this, it must be the practice of law, so no one else should be allowed to do it.” People face heavy fines and even jail time for discussing someone’s legal issues with them. Not only is this a violation of First Amendment protections, it prevents people from obtaining information that could help them navigate the legal system.

Responsive Law supports loosening UPL restrictions to allow people to talk freely about legal matters. Furthermore, UPL prosecutions should not be brought unless there is a showing of consumer harm. Without these limitations, UPL laws will continue to be used for attorney protection and not for consumer protection.

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