Over the past few days, I have been trying to better understand what exactly is considered the practice of law in New York State. Not surprisingly, what I have found is very ambiguous. In fact, here is the New York State Bar Association’s guidance to new attorneys on the unauthorized practice of law:
At present, there is no single place to turn in New York state for a definition of the practice of law and what may constitute the unauthorized practice of law in New York state. However, attorneys are referred to the provisions of article 15 of the Judiciary Law (especially §§ 478 and 484). Investigation and prosecution of allegations of unauthorized practice are handled by the Attorney General’s office (Judiciary Law §§ 476-a to 476-c). Unauthorized practice may subject the violator to misdemeanor prosecution (Judiciary Law § 485) or contempt of court (Judiciary Law § 750[b]). (See, also, Judiciary Law §§ 16, 250).
Here are the URLs to referenced §§ 478 and 484:
Both these provisions, particularly § 478, leave the door pretty wide open for basically anything that has traditionally been performed by lawyers to be the practice of law. The only things that are firmly considered the practice of law are 1) court representation, 2) pleadings, 3) any instrument affecting real property, and 4) any instrument affecting the disposition of property after death.
What should and should not be considered the practice of law? How much does this regulatory ambiguity in your opinion impact legal innovation?
Really interested to get more perspectives on this. Thanks!