Federal Court Bans NY Attorney General from Pursuing UPL Action Against Volunteer Legal Advice Program
by Tom Gordon
A federal court in New York has granted an injunction preventing the New York Attorney General from enforcing unauthorized practice of law (UPL) regulations against a program attempting to provide free legal advice to those facing debt collection proceedings. The court's ruling is a victory for people without resources to pay a lawyer and for their First Amendment rights to receive information that can help them navigate the legal system.
The injunction allows Upsolve, a nonprofit organization helping people with bankruptcy matters, to launch its American Justice Movement, which will train professionals to provide legal advice to those dealing with debt collectors. The court noted that the licensing process for lawyers and its accompanying UPL regulations do not override the first amendment right to speak and to receive information, even when that speech consists of legal advice. In the court's words, "To be sure, there are special categories of pure speech that the government can regulate without scrutiny. But legal advice does not appear to be one of them."
This is the first time that a court has explicitly held that the First Amendment applies to legal advice regardless of whether the advice-giver is a lawyer. While the injunction applies only to the parties to this case, the reasoning could be applied to future situations where trained non-lawyers give legal advice to those who can't or won't pay the high cost of a lawyer.
The court's complete decision is available here.