Colorado Supreme Court (2023)

Premature (mis)representation? How to avoid false perceptions.

Applicants can get into trouble if they falsely claim that they are licensed attorneys.


winter 2016

You did...almost.

Just pass the bar exam and you'll finally be a qualified attorney, perhaps with a position as an associate at the law firm you currently work for. When you filled out your Colorado attorney application, you even listed yourself as "employee," "staff attorney," or "attorney." However, in doing so, you have probably filed an affidavit request with the Lawyer Admissions Division of the Lawyer's Office of Lawyer Regulation. Now what? And what is the problem?

the big problem

The exercise of law by unqualified persons is a "big problem" for the Colorado Supreme Court. Unlicensed practice of law ("UPL") includes, but is not limited to, acts by an unlicensed person as an agent to protect, enforce, or defend the legal rights and obligations of another person and/or provide advice, counsel, and assistance to another person. Person in relation to legal rights and obligations.<![if !supportFootnotes]> [1] <![endif]>

Most people understand that giving legal advice to another person is the exercise of law. However, this also includes selecting and preparing legal documents for another person's use, interpreting the law for another person, representing another person in a legal transaction or matter, and preparing another person's proceeding.

However, many activities that would normally be considered unauthorized legal practices are not UPL when conducted under the direction and supervision of a Colorado licensed attorney. Most law students may work under such direction and supervision as trainee attorneys or even as "summer associates" for a law firm.

Additionally, under the Law Student Practice Rule, many law students are eligible to practice law under certain circumstances. Ver C.R.C.P. 205.7(2)(b). Such students are eligible to appear in court as if they were licensed in Colorado. In addition, external law students may appear and participate in certain civil and criminal proceedings. However, admission to practice the law provided for in the Rule of Practice for Law Students ends after the first swearing-in ceremony after passing the immediately preceding revalidation exam.

How to get into UPL trouble

The way most applicants find themselves in a UPL situation is not by providing legal services, but by posing as licensed attorneys. When you list yourself as an "associate", you are actually posing as a licensed "associate" attorney. Sometimes it is the law firm that is delayed, possibly without the applicant's knowledge.

Colorado Rule of Professional Conduct 7.5(b)<![if !supportFootnotes]> [2] <![endif]>requires a law firm to state jurisdictional limitations on attorneys named on its letterhead. It is acceptable to be listed as an "affiliate" by a law firm on its website, letterhead, etc., as long as the C.R.C.P. 7.5(b) accompany the title.

A law student or applicant who is not licensed to practice law in another state should never appear on letterhead, website, etc. from a law firm. An applicant licensed to practice law in another jurisdiction must meet the requirements of 7.5(b) if listed in a law firm's materials.

Applicants should also note that although they are referred to as "employees," they cannot be identified or billed as such to a customer. Often a person may assume that the person they are speaking to from the law firm is an attorney, when in fact that person may be a legal trainee or paralegal. It is the responsibility of the supervising attorney, as well as the student, to ensure that the non-attorney provides proper identification to clients, opposing attorneys, and third parties. We strongly encourage law students who are not authorized by the Law Student Practice Rule not to meet with clients unless they do so as observers of the attorney-client meeting.

The other way applicants get into trouble with the UPL is by acting in an agent capacity, advising others of their legal rights and responsibilities that are not authorized by law or statute. Students need to be aware of the limitations of what they can and cannot do. Preparation of documents and materials that would eventually be reviewed and executed by a Colorado licensed attorney would be appropriate. However, if a student agrees to answer legal questions or provide other legal services, even if prepared or performed under the supervision of a Colorado attorney, the client may believe that the student did the work or provided the materials themselves. A student should be aware of the difference between activities that are preparatory in nature and those that may cross the line of performance.

This is not intended for anyone acting as an accredited representative with any of the 18 recognized organizations, including legal representation before the Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Homeland Security, etc., or as a licensed authorized agent (i.e., real estate agent). .

what we do

If Lawyer Admissions believes that an applicant may be engaged in an unauthorized legal practice, further investigation is required. Our investigation includes a review of the law firm's website and the applicant's social media posts (eg Linked In, etc.).

For example, if the law firm lists the applicant as "partner" without disclosing that the applicant is not currently licensed to practice law in Colorado, it may violate 7.5(b).

We then generally ask the applicant to provide the following information in an affidavit:

Submit an affidavit detailing all circumstances and events leading up to and related to your current employment with [LAW FIRM] as an "Employee" in [STATE]. Please include a detailed description of your specific duties and responsibilities, including whether you are advising a client on matters related to Colorado law, under what authority you have practiced in Colorado without being licensed, and why you believe this Activity should not be considered illegal. exercise of rights. Also, please explain whether you believe you are making disclosures required by Colorado Rule of Professional Conduct 7.5(b), including information contained on your letterhead, business cards, email signature, etc.

We may also ask the applicant to provide copies of letterheads, business cards, email signature pads, etc. for verification and compliance with professional standards.

This verification may also result in a consultation with the law firm and/or supervising attorney. Therefore, it is important that law firms and student-serving attorneys take seriously their responsibility to monitor these non-lawyers and also to ensure that they properly make the disclosures required by 7.5(b) to the public and to students. customers.

In cases where Bar Admissions is concerned about possible harm to a client or the profession, the matter will be referred to the Unauthorized Practices Division of the Law Office of Lawyer Regulation for further investigation.<![if !supportFootnotes]> [3] <![endif]>

What I can do?

First, understand that you are under oath of the statements and representations on your application for admission. Therefore, you must be careful and thorough in all your statements, including your employment.

Second, review your information and profile online, including how the law firm characterizes your position. If listed as “employee”, that designation must include the disclosures required by 7.5(b). This also applies to all other media in which your name and title appear. It can be an awkward but necessary conversation with a supervising attorney or managing partner. One way to start the discussion might be to bring a copy of this article. Remember that you, as the applicant, are ultimately responsible for the title, especially if it is similarly listed on a site you have control over, such as. B. Your LinkedIn profile.

Third, do not refer to yourself as "lawyer" or add "esq". on his behalf until he has successfully passed the bar exam. In general, you can state that you have a J.D. degree, but only if the context makes it clear that you are not trying to establish yourself as a lawyer. The use of J.D. it is generally interpreted to mean that the person has obtained that title, rather than impersonating a licensed attorney. The concern is that the use of designations such as Esq., "attorney" or "solicitor" may give the false impression that the person is providing legal services or acting in an attorney capacity.

While the Lawyer Admissions staff and I are available to help answer general questions, we cannot offer specific or legal advice. If you receive an affidavit request or have detailed questions about character and eligibility or the licensing process, you should seek the advice of an attorney experienced in these matters.

Also, remember that if a family member, friend, neighbor, etc. asks you for "legal advice" before you are allowed to practice, the correct (and only) response should be: "I'm sorry, I can't help you." further now. I'll let you know when I can."

For more information on unauthorized exercise of rights in Colorado, click here“Understanding the Unlawful Exercise of Rights”On our website.

Melissa M. Oakes is Director of Character and Fitness for the Office of Bar Admissions.

Alec Rothrock, Esq., and James Coyle, Regulation Attorney, contributed to this article.

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