Professional Regulation

Unauthorized Practice of Law

Mission Statement of the VSB’s Standing Committee on Unauthorized

The Standing Committee on Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL) was established to: review and act upon complaints alleging the unauthorized practice of law; and issue advisory opinions explaining what activities constitute the unauthorized practice of law. By rules and statute the unauthorized practice of law is prohibited in Virginia. The nine committee members are appointed by the president of the Virginia State Bar and serve three-year terms. The committee meets regularly to discharge its two primary functions by going over its active investigations and advisory opinions dockets.

The ethics counsel and staff screen incoming complaints and open files for investigation if there is probable cause to believe that a nonlawyer is holding himself or herself out as authorized to practice law or is engaging in UPL. Investigations are assigned to the same professional investigators who investigate disciplinary complaints against attorneys. The committee determines the disposition of UPL complaints based upon the investigators' written reports and the recommendations of the ethics counsel and staff. The committee may dismiss the complaint if there is insufficient evidence of UPL; enter into a consent agreement in which the defendant agrees to cease engaging in the activity at issue; refer the complaint to the office of the attorney general for a writ quo warranto seeking to enjoin the defendant from further engaging in UPL; or refer the complaint to a commonwealth's attorney for criminal enforcement.

The committee's task of issuing advisory UPL opinions is challenging and sometimes controversial. The ethics counsel and staff support the committee by conducting the necessary research and preparing initial draft opinions for discussion at meetings. Some requests involve controversial issues that require discussion over more than one meeting before a consensus can be reached. Each advisory opinion that declares a particular activity to be the unauthorized practice of law must be published and noticed for public comment, reviewed by the Attorney General of Virginia and approved by the VSB Council. In addition, the bar must petition the Supreme Court of Virginia to review the opinion. The Court has the power to approve, disapprove or modify the opinion.

The committee also studies and makes recommendations concerning amendments to the unauthorized practice rules, but any restrictive rule revisions must go through the same procedure used in promulgating UPL advisory opinions which declare an activity to be UPL. The committee's work may include other specific assignments or requests in its area of general responsibility from the bar's officers, the executive committee or the council.

Back to top

Unauthorized Practice Rules

Unauthorized Practice Rules See Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia Part 6, § I

 

Back to top

UPL Opinions On-line

The full text of UPL Opinions can be found at UPL Opinions and can be searched by a topical index.

Unauthorized Practice of Law Opinions are also published in two separate unnumbered volumes of the Michie Code of Virginia (1991 and 1996 added volumes) and are supplemented annually with a pocket part. In addition, the opinions are published as they are issued in the Virginia Lawyer Register. The Geronimo Case Finder and Michie's Law on Disk also include the UPL Opinions in their CD-ROM libraries. The Virginia UPL Opinions are included in WestLaw's database. All information identifying the requesting party is redacted prior to publication and such information is kept confidential.

Back to top

Request a UPL Opinion

A member of the bar may request a UPL Opinion by completing the "UPL Opinion Request Form," which is available for download from this Web site,* or you can contact Kristi Hall at (804) 775-0557 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and arrange to have the form faxed or e-mailed to you.

* UPL Opinion Request Form

Back to top

Proposed UPL Opinions

There are no proposed Unauthorized Practice of Law opinions at this time.
 

Back to top

UPL Opinions Pending Public Comment

There are no Unauthorized Practice of Law opinions pending public comment at this time.
 

Back to top

Submit a UPL Complaint

The ethics counsel and staff screen incoming complaints and open files for investigation if there is probable cause to believe that a nonlawyer is holding himself or herself out as authorized to practice law or is engaging in UPL. Investigations are assigned to the same professional investigators who investigate disciplinary complaints against attorneys. The committee determines the disposition of UPL complaints based upon the investigators' written reports and the recommendations of the ethics counsel and staff. The committee may dismiss the complaint if there is insufficient evidence of UPL; enter into a consent agreement in which the defendant agrees to cease engaging in the activity at issue; refer the complaint to the office of the attorney general for a writ quo warranto seeking to enjoin the defendant from further engaging in UPL; or refer the complaint to a commonwealth's attorney for criminal enforcement.

An Unauthorized Practice of Law Complaint can be submitted by completing the "UPL Opinion Complaint Form," which is available for download from this website,* or you can contact Kristi Hall at (804) 775-0557 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and arrange to have the form faxed or emailed to you.

* Complaint Form (Word doc)

Back to top

Articles Involving the Unauthorized Practice of Law

Back to top

Immigration Fraud

“Notarios” are unauthorized legal consultants who typically charge exorbitant fees for immigration services they never provide.  By the time the victim discovers that the notary has defrauded him or her, the case is already harmed and it is often too late to repair the damage.  As a result of this unauthorized assistance, the immigrant may even lose the opportunity to apply for immigration relief.
 
In response to the “notario” problem, the Standing Committee on Unauthorized Practice of Law proposed an extensive education initiative directed at the communities most affected by this type of fraud.  The goal is to provide immigrants throughout Virginia with the information necessary for selecting an authorized immigration representative and/or lawyer, thereby decreasing the number of immigrants who fall victim to this type of unauthorized practice of law. 
 
For more information on the UPL Committee’s education initiative, please see the Immigration Fraud web page

 

Current Members of UPL Committee

See Committee Roster for a current list of members of the Virginia State Bar’s Standing Committee on Legal Ethics.

Back to top

Updated: May 08, 2014