Practicing law without a license, called an “Unauthorized Practice of Law” charge in California, is usually a misdemeanor for non-attorneys. However, it can also be charged as a felony if the person charged with the crime is a former lawyer who has been listed as inactive, disbarred, resigned from the State Bar, or has been suspended.
The penalties for these charges vary according to the severity of the charge. They range from a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail for misdemeanors all the way up to three years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000 for felony cases. To avoid such harsh penalties and clear your name, you need assistance from skilled California criminal defense attorneys.
Requirements to Practice Law in California
It is not enough to simply have a law degree in order to practice as an attorney in California. You must be officially authorized to practice, which can happen in two ways.
- You are an active member of the California State Bar.
- You are authorized by a separate statute or court ruling.
An example of option number two is when courts allow companies to retain attorneys as in-house lawyers even though those attorneys are members of the Bar in other states.
If you do not fit either of these two descriptions, it is unlawful for you to practice as an attorney even if you are an active member of another state’s or country’s Bar, have a law degree, or are a former member of the California State Bar.
For a free legal consultation, call (310) 896-2723
Violations of the Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL) Rule
It’s not just taking a case to court that is considered an illegal, unlicensed practice of law in California. There are a range of activities that can land you in hot water if you are not properly authorized as an attorney.
It is not legal for someone who is unlicensed and unauthorized to bill themselves or promote themselves as an attorney. If you are not officially licensed by the State Bar, you cannot advertise legal services or advice. This is considered UPL even if you never actually perform those legal services.
Representing Clients in Court
Of course, acting as an attorney for either civil or criminal litigation is prohibited unless you are legally authorized to represent clients.
Providing Legal Counsel
Courts in California have a precedent of considering all legal advice UPL violations if you are not authorized. For example, this could be providing a client with advice on other states’ laws, negotiating with opposing attorneys, or advising a client on how to fill out legal documents.
Courts also consider the preparation of legal materials UPL unless you are a licensed attorney. For example, courts in California have considered it illegal to prepare or provide software to prepare bankruptcy filing documents. If the paperwork concerns legal rights, you must be an attorney to handle and prepare them.
Defenses to a UPL Charge
If you have been charged with unauthorized practice of law in California, you should first seek immediate help from a licensed attorney. There are some common defense strategies that could be available to you, especially if you never actually set foot in a courtroom and performed legal services in that venue.
The fact is that California’s laws are quite vague about what “practicing law” means, and courts often need to rely on precedent and common sense judgments. You could have some room for an argument if you are accused of:
- Filing paperwork on behalf of others
- Suggesting legal actions to others (especially without pay)
- Practicing law while being involuntarily placed on inactive status with the Bar
For example, if a prosecutor cannot prove that you knew you were on inactive status with the California State Bar, you likely will not face penalties. Knowledge of your Bar status is a crucial element of a UPL charge, and it is notoriously difficult to prove.
Click to contact our Criminal Defense Lawyers today
Get Legal Help for Your UPL Charge in California
If you have been charged with unlicensed or unauthorized practicing of law in California, a criminal defense lawyer can help you avoid serious penalties. The consequences of a conviction can wreak havoc on your life and future career, not to mention your bank account.
Contact Simmrin Law Group today to learn about your options for defense. Our criminal defense attorneys can help protect your rights and fight for your innocence.