Unlicensed Practice of Law
Reference librarians are already familiar with the danger of going too far in offering legal or medical advice. In providing E-Government services, the possibility of engaging in the unlicensed practice of law becomes particularly important to explore fully.
According to Healey, unauthorized practice of law prosecutions nationally tend to focus on fraudulent activities and on people who actively advise on legal matters, usually with monetary gain. Healey states that the only state authority to address the issue with respect to libraries is the Virginia State Bar Association. In Virginia “library staff may only respond to specific questions or requests rather than attempt to interpret the user's need as to do more would constitute the unauthorized practice of law” (Healey 2008).
In Florida, pursuant to the provisions of Article V, Section 15 of the Florida Constitution the Supreme Court of Florida has inherent jurisdiction to prohibit the unlicensed practice of law. The Florida Bar Association, as an official arm of the court, is charged with the duty of considering, investigating, and seeking the prohibition of matters pertaining to the unlicensed practice of law and the prosecution of alleged offenders.
Consequences of Unlicensed Practice of Law
According to the Florida Bar's consumer information:
If the local UPL committee determines that the conduct does not involve the unlicensed practice of law, that it is an isolated incident which will not be repeated and will not result in a likelihood of future public harm, that the individual is no longer in Florida or that the complaining party does not wish to cooperate with the investigation, the local UPL committee may close the case.
If the local UPL committee determines that the individual did engage in the unlicensed practice of law and that the activity is likely to continue, the committee may request that the individual sign a cease and desist affidavit. Although the nonlawyer does not have to acknowledge that the nonlawyer engaged in the conduct in the affidavit, the nonlawyer will acknowledge that the conduct is the unlicensed practice of law and will agree to refrain from engaging in the conduct in the future.
If the conduct involves the unlicensed practice of law and the individual will not sign a cease and desist affidavit, the local UPL committee can recommend prosecution. Prosecution is before the Supreme Court of Florida and seeks a civil injunction which orders the nonlawyer to stop engaging in UPL. The Bar can also bring an action before the Supreme Court of Florida for indirect criminal contempt.