Unauthorized Practice of Law

James M. McCauley, Chair

After consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, the Virginia State Bar recommended to the Supreme Court of Virginia that the Court sunset the Standing Committee on Unauthorized Practice of Law. That committee was charged with two duties: 1) to investigate complaints alleging that individuals or business entities are engaged in the unauthorized practice of law; and 2) to issue opinions as to whether specific conduct constitutes the unauthorized practice of law.  These responsibilities will continue to be handled by ethics staff with oversight from the VSB Clerk of the Disciplinary System (a nonlawyer) on the recommendations of Assistant Ethics Counsel, with the exception of straight dismissals.

This fiscal year, staff opened twenty-four (24) new UPL investigations; and of these new complaints, five (5) were closed due to insufficient evidence, three (3) were dismissed with caution, and one (1) was resolved by letter agreement.  No investigations resolved this fiscal year were referred to the Office of the Attorney General for civil prosecution or to the U.S. Attorney’s Office or to a commonwealth’s attorney for criminal prosecution.  Of the fifteen (15) remaining open complaints, seven (7) are under investigation, seven (7) are being reviewed by the VSB Clerk, and one (1) is in the initial stage of review.

During this year, Assistant Ethics Counsel also reviewed thirty-five (35) complaints, thirty-three (33) of which were determined, based on the information provided, not to be the unauthorized practice of law in Virginia warranting a formal investigation, and two (2) of which are outstanding. 

A total of twenty-two (22) investigations were carried over from prior fiscal years. Of these, five (5) were closed due to insufficient evidence, two (2) were dismissed with caution, and six (6) were resolved by letter agreements.  There were four (4) referrals to the Office of the Attorney General, and one (1) referral to commonwealth attorneys for prosecution.  None of the investigations of prior years during this fiscal year were referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.  Of the four (4) remaining open investigations, one (1) is currently being reviewed by the VSB Clerk, one (1) is under investigation, and two (2) are in the final stages of review.

The Study Committee for Revision of the UPL Rules (SCRUPL) is tasked with  reviewing and drafting revisions to the Virginia Unauthorized Practice of Law Rules and the definition of the Practice of Law in Virginia.  SCRUPL, as of this writing, has met on two occasions, April 25, 2017 and June 21, 2017.  Their next meeting is August 10, 2017.  A subcommittee of SCRUPL is preparing a second draft of proposed revisions to the definition of the Practice of Law in Virginia. 

I would like to thank the Study Committee members for their continued hard work and dedication to its mission – Adam David Elfenbein, Susan Marie Butler, Tara Louise Casey, Guy Cameron Crowgey, Hon. Barbara Joan Gaden, Christine Lockhart Poarch, Dennis John Quinn and our lay members, Dr. Michael Blumberg and Barbara S. Lanier.

Updated: Aug 21, 2017