The definition of the practice of law varies by jurisdiction. In 2002, a task force of the American Bar Association (ABA) proposed a model definition.
The model definition includes performing the following acts, on behalf of another person:
(1) Giving legal advice or counsel about legal rights or responsibilities;
(2) Selecting, drafting, or completing legal documents;
(3) Representing a person (client) before an adjudicative body;
(4) Preparing or filing documents or conducting discovery; or
(5) Negotiating legal rights or responsibilities.
Practice of Law, State Comparison
See the ABA summary of the State Definitions of the Practice of Law. It is a composite of state statutes, rules, and court cases.
Note: The ABA summary was compiled in 2002 and may not be up to date.
Below is a comparison of state definitions or acts that may be considered as the practice of law, as of the 2002 research. Some states have no definition.
Note: See your current state laws, rules and court cases for the definition for your state.
|Practice of Law||State Definitions||2002|
|no definition||represent client||prepare case||legal advice||legal opinion||legal services||legal docs||notes|
|AZ||x||x||x||x||x||x||certified legal document preparer|
|AR||x||each case decided on facts|
|CA||x||x||x||x||legal document assistant|
|CO||x||x||x||x||x||law teacher at ABA law school|
|LA||x||x||x||x||x||civil law notary acts not prohibited|
|MI||x||charging a fee|
|MN||x||x||x||x||much can be done by non-lawyers|
|MS||x||x||x||x||x||receiving a fee, reward or promise|
|MO||x||x||x||x||receiving valuable consideration|
|MT||x||x||x||x||much can be done by non-lawyers|
|NE||x||each case decided on facts|
|NV||x||community practices define scope|
|NH||x||x||educated judgment needs lawyer|
|NJ||x||UPL if public interest disserved|
|NC||x||x||x||x||x||x||with or without compensation|
|OK||x||x||based on court decisions|
|OR||x||x||x||x||ignore custom, payment, incidental|
|RI||x||x||x||x||for consideration, direct or indirect|
|SD||x||x||x||neutral mediator, arbitrator allowed|
|TN||x||x||x||x||for valuable consideration|
|TX||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||creation and sale of legal books, forms, software OK with disclaimer|
|VA||x||x||x||x||x||for consideration, direct or indirect|
|WA||x||x||x||x||x||sale of legal forms allowed, neutral mediator, arbitrator allowed, providing general legal information allowed|
|WV||x||x||x||x||x||with or without compensation|
|WI||x||x||x||for compensation or pecuniary reward|
Small Claims Court Exception
Several states authorize officers or employees of a business to represent that business in small claims court: AZ, KY, LA, MD
Restricted Words in Advertising
Several states prohibit non-lawyers from using certain words in advertising their services offered to the public: AZ– lawyer, law, attorney-at-law, UT– JD, Esq, attorney, attorney-at-law, WV– lawyer, attorney, counselor-at-law
Restrictions on Negotiations
Some states have restrictions that prohibit non-lawyers from engaging in negotiations involving legal rights and responsibilities.
Unauthorized Practice of Law
Non-lawyers should avoid acts that may be considered as unauthorized practice of law (UPL).
1. US Supreme Court building, Supreme Court website
2. US Supreme Court banner, Supreme Court website
Disclaimer: Laws vary by state and are subject to change. This article is not legal advice. For legal advice, contact a licensed, experienced attorney.
[Last-Modified Date 2018-01-19] update broken link to ABA state definitions