Connecticut has enacted a new criminal law that could apply sweeping new restrictions on people's ability to receive legal assistance, with punishment ranging up to five years in prison.
The new law, which was Senate Bill 829, changes the state's relatively reasonable definition of practice of law to a much broader one that could potentially encompass a number of professional activities, including the work of doctors, financial planners, and real estate agents. It also could criminalize any non-lawyer giving advice to a friend or family member about how to fill out paperwork or how to handle any other matter involving legal rights.
The bill also raises the penalty for unauthorized practice of law from a class C misdemeanor, with a maximum sentence of three months, to a class D felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. This is the same sentence applicable to crimes such as jury tampering and third degree burglary.
Responsive Law was the only group to testify against this proposal, speaking out on behalf of the people whose professional behavior may be criminalized and those whose access to legal information may be chilled. Our testimony on this bill can be found here.