Documents Preparation: Fee Simple Deeds For Timber Severance And/Or Land Prepared By Timber Company; Documents Typed By Client’s SecretarialStaff on Attorney’s Letterhead for Review By Client’s Attorney.

I am writing in response to your letter of June 11, 1996, requesting an Unauthorized Practice of Law advisory opinion dealing with (1) whether a timber company may prepare, execute and record timber deeds with landowners, (2) whether a client’s secretarial staff may type and/or prepare deeds and correspondence on the attorney’s letterhead if the client’s attorney supervises and reviews them prior to execution, and (3) whether a client may “borrow??? an attorney’s letterhead for the client's own correspondence, which the attorney himself does not have time to prepare.

The Committee considered your inquiry at its October 10, 1996 meeting and has directed me to transmit its conclusions to you.

Regarding your first inquiry, Part 6, Section I (B)(2) of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia provides that one is deemed to be practicing law whenever:

“One, other than as a regular employee acting for his employer, undertakes, with or without compensation, to prepare for another legal instruments of any character, other than notices or contracts incident to the regular course of conducting a licensed business.???

This committee previously opined that employees of a state agency were not practicing law when they prepared deeds to purchase real estate for their employing agency. See UPL Op. #125. Similarly, the employees of the timber company in your inquiry may prepare these timber deeds for the company from the landowners.

Your second inquiry focuses on a client’s secretary typing and/or preparing deeds and correspondence for the attorney with supervision and review from the attorney. Assuming that these deeds and/or correspondence are for the client (i.e., the secretary’s employer), the committee’s response to your first inquiry establishes that the secretary may do this work without it being deemed the practice of law. Therefore, the fact that, in this second scenario, the attorney reviews and supervises the work in no way changes that conclusion.

Your third inquiry involves the client “borrowing??? the attorney’s letterhead for correspondence in instances where the attorney does not have time to fulfill the client’s request. Part 6, Section I (A) of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia states as follows:

No non-lawyer shall engage in the practice of law in the Commonwealth of Virginia or in any manner hold himself out as authorized or qualified to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia except as may be authorized by rule or statute.

For a non-lawyer to send correspondence on a lawyer’s letterhead when in fact the letter is the work product not of the lawyer but of the non-lawyer, it is the opinion of this committee that the non-lawyer has, by cloaking his own work with legal authority, improperly held himself out as authorized or qualified to practice law.

This opinion is based only on the facts you presented and is subject to review by Bar Council at its next regularly scheduled meeting, after the requisite period for public comment, 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 I: ¶10(f)(iii).

Committee Opinion
October 28, 1996


Updated: Aug 28, 2006