Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Word of the Month for January 2013: Unauthorized Practice of Law

answer legal questions advice
One of the problems with being a Law Librarian are some of the restrictions placed on how we do our job.  The one that many people seem to get confused and frustrated with is the fact that while we work in the legal arena, we are not lawyers and cannot provide legal advice.  The proper wording is "unauthorized practice of law."  In California, the law of UPL is governed by California Business and Professions Code section 6126.  We can get you to the book, the website, sometimes even the page on which to find an answer, but we can't tell you what you should do or how to fill out a form. Maybe a couple scenarios can help you understand what I'm talking about.

Let's say life has hit you up side your head a few times and you don't have the cash to pay rent.  Say your landlord (who wants the rent) hands you a three-day notice to pay or quit (i.e. pay or move out).  Say you go to your local county law library looking to avoid being evicted.  Say your local county Law Librarian hands you California Eviction Defense Manual (CEB), California Practice Guide: Landlord Tenant (West) or Every Tenants Legal Guide (Nolo Press).  Then you're local county Law Librarian directs you to the California Judicial Council Forms online and shows you where you can locate a form to answer the three-day notice to pay or quit at which point you ask, "How do I fill out the form?" 

Uh, right...  Remember that little thing called UPL?  That's where this kicks in.  See, your friendly neighborhood county Law Librarian knows a whole lot about all stuff legal - but what we can't do is help you fill out legal forms because filling out legal
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forms constitutes legal advice.  Yeah, I know - it can be a real bummer...especially when you're behind the eight-ball and you needed that form filled out yesterday!

Let's try another one.  Say you've been laid off from your job and you've been living on credit card debt for the last 3 years.  Say your bank wants it's money and it sues you for (among other things), breach of contract and money had and received.  Quick as a flash, your local county Law Librarian takes you over to California Forms of Pleading and Practice (Lexis) and (the granddaddy of them all) Handbook on Common Law Pleading by Benjamin Shipman (West).  Of course, you're going to ask, "What do I do now?!"  

Yeah, about that...  Well, pursuant to Section 6126 (which, I suspect, was the result of significant lobbying by the legal industry), that's as far as your local county Law Librarian can go.  I guess the moral to this story is, if moral there be: your local county Law Librarian can show you where to go in and around your local county law library; we can help you locate resources to answer to your most pressing legal questions; we can show you the books you need to use - we just can't tell you what to do with them.  Sorry.