VIRGINIA UPL OPINION 151


Lay Employees of Collection Agency Preparing Warrants in Debt.

Inquiry:
A Virginia State Bar member wishes to know if it would constitute the unauthorized practice of law for collection agency [“Agency???] non-lawyer personnel to prepare warrants in debt where an attorney [“Attorney???], selected by the creditor-client [“Client???], provides the Agency with specific instructions as to the information to be inserted into the blanks on the standard warrant in debt form; Client provides the information to Agency; and Agency, using a word processing program, causes the information to be printed onto standard pre-printed forms, which are then delivered to Attorney who reviews, signs and files the completed forms with the appropriate General District Court. Attorney and Client’s representative appear in court on the return day, but Agency continues to communicate with debtors and simultaneously communicates with Attorney for purposes of arranging for continuances or dismissals of the litigation. Payments by debtors are made to Agency and Agency disburses funds to Client, Attorney, and Agency. Attorney’s fee arrangement is agreed upon between Attorney and Client; and Agency’s fee is agreed upon between Client and Agency.

Opinion:
The appropriate and controlling Virginia Unauthorized Practice Rule is UPR 3-103(C) which prohibits an agency from preparing for others any document which requires legal training or the application of legal principles to factual situations. See also Va. Sup. Ct. Rule 7B:7; Va. Code §16.1-88.03; Va. Code §55-246.1.

The Committee has previously opined that it was not the unauthorized practice of law for a collection agency to draft, on behalf of its customers, statements of account, affidavits and memoranda for civil warrants. UPL Op. 51. Similarly, the Committee has opined that it does not constitute the unauthorized practice of law for a regular and bona fide employee, of either an individual or a corporation . . . to have warrants issued. . . .UPL Op. 53 [emphasis added]. See also UPL Op. 97 and UPL Op. 120.

Conversely, in circumstances which may be analogized to the collection agency’s preparation of the warrants in debt for use by the attorney, the Committee has previously opined that it is the unauthorized practice of law for a real estate settlement service to prepare completed deeds of trust and other legal documents even if the documents are sent subsequently to an attorney for the attorney’s review, final approval and use at settlement on behalf of the attorney’s client. UPL Ops. 76, 86.

The Committee is of the opinion that the agency’s preparation of warrants in debt as described would be violative of UPR 3-103(C) since the agency is preparing for creditors documents which require legal training and the application of legal principles to factual situations. The Committee views a warrant in debt as a pleading, a document which initiates a civil action in a General District Court and begins the legal process by which a claim is adjudicated or resolved. See Potts v. Mathieson Alkali Works, 165 Va. 196, 207 (1935); Va. Code §16.1-86. Therefore, the Committee is of the opinion that such documents may only be prepared (a) by the creditor directly; (b) by an attorney licensed to practice law in Virginia; or (c) by a licensed attorney’s full-time or otherwise regular and bona fide employees under his direct supervision. Prior UPL Opinion No. 51 [February 17, 1981] does not address the form pleading now promulgated by the Supreme Court of Virginia, i.e., a form warrant in debt which combines the earlier-referenced memorandum and the warrant, and does not apply to the form warrants in debt. The committee believes it is bound by the definition of “pleading??? as set forth by the Virginia Supreme Court, and that only an amendment to the statutes regulating the filing of civil warrants in General District Courts would authorize preparation and filing of such civil warrants by individuals not enumerated above. In addition, by issuance of this Opinion No. 151, the committee hereby restates and reaffirms its conclusions as stated in prior UPL Opinions cited herein, i.e., Opinions 53 [December 1, 1982], 76 [June 11, 1985], 86 [November 4, 1985], 97 [November 13, 1986], and 120 [August 10, 1988].

This opinion is based only on the questions posed and facts presented and is subject to review by Bar Council at its next regularly scheduled meeting in accordance with Part Six: Section IV: ¶10(c)(iv) of the Rules of the Virginia Supreme Court. Should Council approve the opinion, it will then be reviewed by the Supreme Court pursuant to Part Six: Section IV: ¶10(f)(iii).

Summary:
It would constitute a violation of UPR 3-103(C) for collection agency [“Agency???] non-lawyer personnel to prepare warrants in debt where an attorney [“Attorney???], selected by the creditor-client [“Client???], provides the Agency with specific instructions as to the information to be inserted into the blanks on the standard warrant in debt form; Client provides the information to Agency; and Agency, using a word processing program, causes the information to be printed onto standard pre-printed forms, which are then delivered to Attorney who reviews, signs and files the completed forms with the appropriate General District Court.

Approved by the Supreme
Court of Virginia,
February 26, 1993

Effective May 1, 1993

 

Updated: Aug 28, 2006