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United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
May 24, 2022, Decided; May 24, 2022, Filed
No. 22-cv-627 (PAC)
OPINION & ORDER
] "The orderly functioning of our judicial system and the protection of our citizens require that legal advice should be offered only by those who possess the requisite qualifications and authorization for the practice of law. At the same time, one of the most fundamental principles of our system of government prohibits any restraint on a citizen's right to disseminate his views on important public issues." Dacey v. New York Cty. Lawyers' Ass'n, 423 F.2d 188, 189 (2d Cir. 1969). Sometimes these two principles conflict, and one must yield to the other.
This case exemplifies that conflict. Plaintiffs—a non-profit organization and a non-lawyer individual—seek to encroach upon a small part of what has heretofore been the exclusive domain of members of the Bar. Plaintiffs have crafted a program that would train non-lawyers [*3] to give legal advice to low-income New Yorkers who face debt collection actions. Specifically, Plaintiffs want to help those New Yorkers fill out checkboxes on a one-page answer form provided by the State, in the hopes that more people will avoid defaulting outright in such actions. The legal advice would be free and confined to helping clients complete the State's one-page form.
Plaintiffs' proposal faces one problem: by giving legal advice as non-lawyers, their activities would constitute the unauthorized practice of law ("UPL") under several New York statutes. They risk being sued by the Defendant in this case, the New York State Attorney General. Thus, Plaintiffs seek an injunction that prevents the Attorney General from enforcing the UPL rules against them.
The Court concludes a preliminary injunction is warranted. The UPL rules cannot be applied to Plaintiffs' program because the First Amendment protects their legal advice as speech, and the UPL rules are not narrowly tailored to satisfy strict scrutiny in this context. Further, the balance of equities favors an injunction because Plaintiffs' program would help alleviate an avalanche of unanswered debt collection cases, while mitigating the risk [*4] of consumer or ethical harm. And enjoining enforcement against Plaintiffs alone, whose activities are carefully limited to out-of-court advice, will not threaten the overall regulatory exclusivity of the legal profession.
Full case includes Shepard's, Headnotes, Legal Analytics from Lex Machina, and more.
2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93388 *; 2022 WL 1639554
UPSOLVE, INC., and REV. JOHN UDO-OKON, Plaintiffs, v. LETITIA JAMES, in her official capacity as Attorney General of the State of New York, Defendant.
Plaintiffs', legal advice, non-lawyers, Training, advice, licensing, cases, courts, Advocates, debt collection, as-applied, lawsuits, default, injunction, lawyers, preliminary injunction, merits, strict scrutiny, practice of law, content-based, regulation, tailored, rights, facial challenge, pre-enforcement, challenges, incidental, non-profit, profession, narrowly
Legal Ethics, Unauthorized Practice of Law, Civil Procedure, Sanctions, Contempt, Civil Contempt, Remedies, Injunctions, Preliminary & Temporary Injunctions, Constitutional Law, Case or Controversy, Standing, Elements, Justiciability, Case & Controversy Requirements, Threats of Prosecution, The Judiciary, Ripeness, Fundamental Freedoms, Judicial & Legislative Restraints, Overbreadth & Vagueness of Legislation, Governments, Legislation, Overbreadth, Standing, Freedom of Speech, Scope, Actual Controversy, Courts, Authority to Adjudicate, Grounds for Injunctions, Balance of Hardships, Public Interest, Likelihood of Success, Civil Rights Law, Protection of Rights, Prisoner Rights, Access to Courts, Bill of Rights, Freedom to Petition, Expressive Conduct, Obscenity, Evidence, Burdens of Proof, Allocation, Irreparable Harm, Freedom of Association, Prior Restraint, Judicial Officers, Judges, Discretionary Powers, Parties, Intervention, Permissive Intervention, Time Limitations