Unlawful Practice of Law Frequently Asked Questions
Who can practice law in Oregon?
Generally, only lawyers who are admitted, active members of the Oregon State Bar (OSB) may practice law in Oregon. The Oregon State Bar Act says that a person may not practice law or hold oneself out as qualified to practice law unless that person is an active member of the Oregon State Bar, or some other law allows them to practice law. ORS 9.160. The practice of law in Oregon is regulated by the legislature and the courts.
In limited cases, attorneys who are active members of other state bars may be able to practice law in Oregon. For instance, out-of-state attorney may be able to practice in Oregon if they are specifically authorized to do so by federal law or if they are only practicing in Oregon on a temporary basis and have not established an office in Oregon.
If you are hiring an attorney to represent you in front of a federal agency (e.g. Social Security Administration, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services or Veterans Administration), you may also wish to confirm they are qualified to practice before that agency.
Social Security Administration: http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10075.html
US Customs and Immigration Services: www.uscis.gov/avoidscams
Veterans Administration: http://www.va.gov/ogc/apps/accreditation/index.asp
How do I learn if a person is an Oregon attorney?
If you are unsure whether a person is qualified to practice law, you should check the persons's name in the OSB Member Directory and confirm that he or she is listed as an“active” member of the bar.
Can I use an attorney who is licensed in another state?
With some exceptions, only lawyers who are admitted to the Oregon State Bar (OSB) may practice law in Oregon. The Oregon State Bar Act says that a person may not practice law or hold oneself out as qualified to practice law unless that person is an active member of the Oregon State Bar, or some other law allows them to practice law. ORS 9.160
In limited cases, attorneys who are active members of other state bars may be able to practice law in Oregon if they are specifically authorized to do so by federal law or if they are only practicing in Oregon on a temporary basis. It is a good idea to check with the state bar in which the out-of-state attorney is licensed before hiring an out-of-state attorney. You can link to other state bar associations here:
What is the practice of law?
The ‘practice of law’ is defined in decisions of the Oregon Supreme Court and generally includes, among other things:
- appearing on behalf of others in Oregon courts and administrative proceedings;
- drafting or selecting legal documents for another when informed or trained discretion must be exercised to meet the person’s individual needs;
- advising someone of his or her legal rights in a particular situation;
- having a law office in Oregon regardless of where clients are located;
- acting as an immigration consultant unless authorized by federal law to do so; and
- holding oneself out as a lawyer.
It is not necessary that money change hands in order for conduct to be the practice of law.
What is not the unlawful practice of law?
Although it depends on the specific facts of each situation, some of the commonly occurring activities that generally are not considered the unlawful practice of law in Oregon:
- individual parties who represent only themselves in a case or legal dispute;
- representation of others in justice courts;
- out-of-state lawyers or collection agencies who send demand letters into Oregon, without more;
- properly licensed out-of-state lawyers who limit their practice exclusively to certain areas of federal law, such as patent law or immigration law, when federal law specifically authorizes the lawyer's practice;
- activities of licensed professionals whose actions are within the scope of their licenses; for instance, real estate professionals, title insurance companies, certified public accountants and other licensed tax professionals;
- sale of generic do-it-yourself legal publications without any further personalized assistance in preparation of documents or court papers; and
- internet discussion groups or chat rooms that do not provide personalized assistance in preparation of documents or court papers.
Who can represent me in immigration proceedings?
In Oregon, it is illegal for non-attorneys to serve as immigration consultants, unless they are specifically authorized to do so by federal law. ORS 9.230 Immigration consultants are people who provide immigration advice or help clients to fill out immigration forms for payment.
Under federal law, only certain attorneys, recognized organizations, accredited representatives, qualified representatives, and free legal services providers can represent clients in immigration proceedings. “Notarios,” visa consultants, and immigration consultants cannot represent people in immigration proceedings.
For more information on who can represent you on your immigration matter, visit:
How does the OSB investigate the unlawful practice of law?
The OSB is responsible for investigating allegations of the unlawful practice of law. Generally, enforcement of prohibitions on the unlawful practice of law is complaint driven. The bar relies on the public to provide information about individuals practicing law without a license. The bar receives complaints from judges, injured consumers, lawyers and other state bar associations.
Complaints are forwarded to the Unlawful Practice of Law (UPL) Committee of the OSB. This committee consists of about sixteen lawyers and two public members, all volunteers appointed by the OSB Board of Governors. Each complaint is assigned to a member of the committee for investigation. The investigator contacts the complaining party and the person being accused of practicing law without a license, and makes other investigation as the facts warrant. The investigator then prepares a report, which is considered by the entire committee at its monthly public meetings. Except in the most complicated cases, the time from initial complaint to consideration by the UPL committee is about six months.
How does the OSB protect the public from the unlawful practice of law?
The UPL committee has authority to:
- dismiss a complaint if there is insufficient evidence;
- send a notice letter, warning that the accused’s activities could be considered the unlawful practice of law;
- issue an cautionary letter advising the accused that the committee has evidence the accused engaged in the unlawful practice of law;
- enter into a cease and desist agreement with the accused; or,
- recommend to the OSB Board of Governors that the OSB file a lawsuit against the accused to prevent him or her from continuing to practice law without authorization.
Occasionally, if an investigation suggests that there has been some illegal activity that the UPL committee cannot address, then the UPL committee will forward the results of its investigation to other state bars, to the Oregon Attorney General, or to another appropriate regulatory or law enforcement agency.
If the UPL committee refers a complaint to the OSB Board of Governors, and the Board authorizes a lawsuit, the usual relief sought is an injunction against the continuation of the unlawful practice of law. ORS 9.166. The OSB may also seek restitution for any victims. The OSB can also recover attorney fees and other expenses of litigation. Most cases are resolved before this step.
Have you or someone you know been harmed by someone practicing law without a license?
The Unlawful Practice of Law Committee takes its responsibilities very seriously. The committee investigates complaints to determine if they are supported by evidence. Of course, not every complaint results in a finding of the unlawful practice of law. However, every complaint and every investigation assist the OSB to ensure that consumers are protected from unauthorized practitioners.
If you are concerned that someone may be practicing law without a license, please fill out the UPL Complaint Form, and send it to the following address:
OSB General Counsel’s Office
Unlawful Practice of Law
P.O. Box 231935
What if you have been the victim of fraud?
If you believe you have been the victim of consumer fraud or would like to file a complaint against a business please contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Hotline at 1-877-877-9392 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or complete an online Oregon DOJ Consumer Complaint Form anytime. You may also wish to visit the Oregon Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection website for more information. (http://www.doj.state.or.us/consumer/index.shtml).
If you have additional questions about the unlawful practice of law, please contact Cassandra Stich at 503.620-0222 ext 334 or firstname.lastname@example.org.