Non-Lawyers Provision of Information to Judicial Officer for Use in Determining Issues Concerning Bail.

This is in response to your letter of April 26, 1995, requesting an Unauthorized Practice of Law advisory opinion dealing with the use of non-lawyers to provide information to judicial officers to determine whether a criminal accused should be granted bail and the conditions under which bail might be set. The Committee considered your inquiry and has directed me to transmit its conclusions to you.

Article 5 of Title 19.2 of the Code of Virginia establishes the Pretrial Services Act. Virginia Code §19.2-152.4 requires that any jurisdiction that establishes a Pretrial Services Program must provide all information and services for use by judicial officers in fixing the terms of bail under Va. Code §§19.2-121 and -123. Virginia Code §19.2-121 details the information that a judicial officer must consider in any decision to admit an accused to bail.

You have presented the following inquiry:

If an individual, other than a licensed practicing attorney, provides information to a judicial officer as set forth in §19.2-121 of the Code, particularly information concerning the weight of the evidence, would that person then have engaged in the unauthorized practice of law?

You are correct that the controlling rule is UPR 1-101 which prohibits a non-lawyer from representing another before a tribunal, other than in the presentation of facts, figures or factual conclusions, as distinguished from legal conclusions. It is the Committee’s opinion that the cited statutes do not authorize non-lawyers to render any legal opinion or conclusion concerning the weight of the evidence in a particular criminal matter. The statutes simply authorize a non-lawyer to inform a magistrate or judge of facts relative to a criminal case, leaving it to the judicial officer to determine the weight to be given to such information in admitting an accused to bail. The statutes do not, in the Committee’s opinion, confer upon a non-lawyer authority to render an opinion or conclusion concerning the weight of the evidence which would be engaging in the practice of law.

Though not directly on point with the facts presented in your situation, the Committee has previously addressed the scope of permissible activity by non-lawyer government employees representing governmental or public agencies before a court or tribunal. As long as the non-lawyer representative’s in-court role is restricted to presenting facts, figures and factual conclusions to the court, such activity does not constitute the practice of law. See. e.g., UPL Opinion No. 145. Thus, non-lawyers engaging in the activity contemplated under the cited statutes would not be engaged in any activity constituting the practice of law.

Committee Opinion
September 17, 1995


Updated: Aug 28, 2006