Consumer Pamphlet: Hiring The Right Person To Help Me With My Legal Problems
There probably will come a time in your life when you will need or want to seek legal advice or services. One of the first questions you may ask yourself is whether you need a lawyer, or whether a nonlawyer could assist you instead. This consumer pamphlet is intended to help you make an informed choice.
I recently saw an advertisement in the paper from someone who called himself a paralegal, which said he could help me with my legal problem for a lot less than a lawyer. Can this person really help?
No, a nonlawyer cannot help you with your legal problem.
Legally, only a licensed member of The Florida Bar can help you with your legal problem and give you legal advice. A lawyer’s job is to make the law work for everyone. Consumers often use the services of lawyers to help them draw up wills, handle real estate transactions, and deal with other important legal needs. If a nonlawyer attempts to help you with your legal problem, that person may be prosecuted for the unlicensed practice of law (UPL), and your case may be affected.
But this person is a paralegal. Doesn’t that mean they have training or that they work with a lawyer?
No. In fact, so many people were being misled about the titles “paralegal” and “legal assistant” that the Supreme Court of Florida approved a rule saying that it is not proper for nonlawyers to use those titles if they are providing services directly to the public. Paralegals working in a law office often do have training and often are certified. They also have a code of ethics that they must follow, and they work under a lawyer’s supervision, not on their own. Nonlawyers who do not work for a lawyer might not have any training and should not be using the title “paralegal.”
The only thing the nonlawyer can legally do for you is to sell you a pre-printed form and type in the information that you provide. A nonlawyer cannot tell you what information you should put on the form, or even what type of form to use, and cannot help you fill it out. Basically, the nonlawyer can act as a secretary or typist.
You do not. You cannot rely on the nonlawyer to do it right. You are really representing yourself.
Again, nonlawyers can only supply forms and type in the information you provide.
No, that is not true. A lawyer can give you legal advice and go to court with you. A nonlawyer cannot give legal advice and cannot go to court. There are other important differences between a lawyer and a nonlawyer:
Lawyers are required to have a college degree and a law degree. There are no legal education requirements for nonlawyers.
Lawyers are required to pass a stringent admittance examination to determine their competency, as well as a thorough character and fitness investigation, before being admitted to practice law. There are no such requirements for nonlawyers.
Lawyers are required to maintain current legal education and take ethics courses periodically. There is no continuing education requirement for nonlawyers.
Lawyers are subject to comprehensive and tough ethical rules. There are no written ethical standards for nonlawyers.
Lawyers who are accused of misbehavior are investigated by The Florida Bar, and such an investigation can lead to the loss of a license to practice law. Nonlawyers are not professionally accountable to any authority, although they can be investigated and prosecuted for engaging in the unlicensed practice of law.
Lawyers are required to maintain client confidences. Nonlawyers have no such requirement and could tell your secrets to anyone, even the other side.
Lawyers as a profession maintain a Clients’ Security Fund, which is intended to reimburse clients for some of their losses if a lawyer misappropriates trust funds. There is no such program for nonlawyers. A nonlawyer who steals from you or does not provide the services that were promised cannot be forced to give you your money back.
Paralegals working in a law office may have some of the same requirements as lawyers if the paralegal is registered with The Florida Bar as a Florida Registered Paralegal.
But paralegals working in a law office work for the attorney, not for you, and are not providing services directly to the public.
My case is simple, and I think I can handle it myself.
Every person has the right to self-representation. But remember, cases that appear simple at first may turn out to be more complicated than you first thought. Finding a lawyer isn’t as hard as you think, and you might be able to have your questions answered or get good legal advice during an initial consultation. If you do not have a lawyer, many local bar groups in Florida sponsor lawyer referral services, listed under “attorney” or “attorney referral services” in the telephone book and online. These services can set up an initial appointment for you with a lawyer for a nominal fee (usually less than $50). If there is no lawyer referral service in your city, The Florida Bar’s statewide service can locate a lawyer for you. You can call this service toll-free at (800) 342-8011. The statewide service, which operates only in cities where there is no local program, will refer you to an attorney for an initial half-hour consultation for a nominal fee. The Florida Bar’s consumer pamphlet “How To Find A Lawyer In Florida” may also help.
The Florida Bar’s disciplinary program has become the gold standard for protecting the public. Not only does the Bar pursue disciplinary action against its members, but the Bar also engages in the investigation and prosecution of the unlicensed practice of law to protect the public. If you want to file a complaint with The Florida Bar against a nonlawyer, you may do so by contacting The Florida Bar’s UPL office in your area. The addresses are listed at the end of this brochure. You will be sent a complaint form to fill out and return. You also can get information about filing a complaint and a nonlawyer complaint form from The Florida Bar’s website.
The UPL department has offices in Tallahassee, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Orlando, and Tampa. The addresses are:
The Florida Bar
651 E. Jefferson Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-2300
The Florida Bar
Lake Shore Plaza II
1300 Concord Terrace, Ste. 130
Sunrise, FL 33323-2899
(954) 835-0233, ext. 4148
The Florida Bar
Rivergate Plaza, Ste. M100
444 Brickell Ave.
Miami, FL 33131-2404
(305) 377-4445, ext. 4218
The Florida Bar
The Gateway Center
1000 Legion Place, Ste. 1625
Orlando, FL 32801-5200
The Florida Bar
2002 N. Lois Ave., Ste. 300
Tampa, Florida 33607
(813) 875-9821, ext. 4323
[Updated October 2016]