VIRGINIA UPL OPINION 127
Provision of Legal Research Services.
You have indicated that you are a licensed Virginia attorney, and that you propose to set up a business in Virginia which does not constitute the practice of law. For purposes of this opinion, the Committee assumes that members of your staff will not be licensed attorneys. The four scenarios you describe include:
1. Retrieval and copying of law library publications, by your staff, at the request of attorneys only who have provided your organization with specific cites to cases, statutes, etc.;
2. Retrieval and copying of law library publications, by your staff, at the request of members of the general public (in addition to attorneys) who have provided your organization with specific cites to cases, statutes, etc.;
3. Research and law library retrieval for attorneys where the attorney does not provide a specific cite by outlines the question to your staff; and4. Research and law library retrieval for members of the general public where the inquirer does not provide a specific cite but outlines the question to your staff.
Since the retrieval and copying of specific materials does not require the possession or use of any legal knowledge or skill, it is the opinion of the Committee that the activities indicated in scenarios one and two do not constitute the practice of law. Similarly , since the non-lawyer researcher in scenario three is providing assistance to a licensed attorney who retains an attorney-client relationship with the ultimate beneficiary of the research materials, and since it is the licensed attorney who will assess the legal case and select from among the materials provided by the non-lawyer researcher, it is the further opinion of the Committee that the situation in your third question does not constitute the practice of law.
However, since the intent of Section I of Part Six of the Virginia Rules of Court, relating to Unauthorized Practice Rules and Considerations, is to protect the public from individuals untrained in the law and unregulated by the profession who are providing inappropriate legal advice, it is the opinion of the Committee that the facts as you have presented them in the fourth scenario do constitute the unauthorized practice of law. The Committee believes that in order for appropriate legal research to be done for members of the general public, it is essential that legal training provide the researcher with the ability to assess the inquirerís legal training case and to then determine which cases, statutes or other legal materials are applicable to the case. Thus, the Committee opines that provision of legal research services to the general public by non-lawyer personnel constitutes the unauthorized practice of law.Committee Opinion
February 2, 1989
Updated: Aug 28, 2006