Unlawful Practice of Law Frequently Asked Questions





 

Who can 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.

Lawyers who are licensed to practice law in other jurisdictions may be able to practice law in Oregon. Oregon RPC 5.5.  For instance, an out-of-state lawyer or foreign lawyer may be able to practice in Oregon if he or she is specifically authorized to do so by federal law or if he or she is only practicing in Oregon on a temporary basis and has not established an office in Oregon.

If you are hiring an individual 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 the individual is qualified to practice before that agency.



 

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 person’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?

Under certain conditions, lawyers who are active members in good standing in other jurisdictions may be able to practice law in Oregon. Oregon RPC 5.5.  For instance, an out-of-state or foreign lawyer may be able to practice in Oregon if he or she is specifically authorized to do so by federal law or if he or she is only practicing in Oregon on a temporary basis and has not established an office in Oregon. 

Before hiring a lawyer it is a good idea to check with the lawyer’s licensing authority to make sure the lawyer is in good standing.



 

What is the practice of law?

The ‘practice of law’ is defined by Oregon statutes and decisions of the Oregon Supreme Court. The Oregon Supreme Court has held that it is not necessary that money change hands in order for conduct to be the practice of law. The Oregon State Bar recommends you research the law or consult with a lawyer if you have questions about what constitutes the practice of law.  You may also wish to review the UPL Advisory Opinions for general information about what the courts have determined constitutes the practice of law.



 

What is not the unlawful practice of law?

Although it depends on the specific facts of each situation, Oregon statutes and case law provide that the following activities are generally 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 prosecution 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
  • participation in internet discussion groups or chat rooms that do not provide personalized assistance in preparation of documents or court papers.
  • This list is not intended to be exhaustive. The Oregon State Bar recommends you research the law or consult with a lawyer if you have specific questions about what constitutes the practice of law. 



     

    Who can represent me in immigration proceedings?

    In Oregon, it is illegal for non-lawyers 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.  Id.

    Under federal law, only certain lawyers, 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.

    The UPL Advisory Opinion "Immigration Practice: Notarios, Translators, and Accredited Representatives", available in English and Spanish, discusses who can provide immigration legal advice. More information on immigration consultant or “notario” fraud is available here.



     

    How does the OSB investigate the unlawful practice of law?

    The OSB is responsible for investigating allegations of the unlawful practice of law. ORS 9.164.  The bar relies on the public to provide information about individuals who are causing harm by practicing law without a license. The bar receives complaints from judges, injured consumers, lawyers and other state bar associations.  UPL Complaint Forms are available in English or Spanish.

    UPL complaints are forwarded to the UPL Committee of the OSB. Each complaint is assigned to a member of the Committee for investigation. The investigator may contact the complaining party and the person being accused of practicing law without a license, or otherwise investigate the allegations. The investigator then prepares a report, which is considered by the entire UPL Committee at its public meeting. 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 investigate allegations of the unlawful practice of law and:

  • close an investigation if there is insufficient evidence;
  • send an informational letter, notifying the accused that the investigation is closed, and providing general information about what the Oregon Supreme Court has found constitutes the practice of law;
  • recommend to the OSB Board of Governors that the bar file a lawsuit against the accused, if it has evidence a member of the public has been harmed or is likely to be harmed by the accused’s unauthorized practice of law; or
  • refer the results of its investigation to another department, another state bar, the Oregon Attorney General, or other regulatory or law enforcement agency.
  • If the UPL Committee refers a complaint to the OSB Board of Governors to initiate proceedings, and the Board authorizes a lawsuit, the bar will seek an injunction against the continuation of the unlawful practice of law. ORS 9.166. The bar may also seek restitution for any victims, lawyer fees and other expenses of litigation.



    Have you or someone you know been harmed by someone practicing law without a license?

    The Unlawful Practice of Law Committee investigates complaints to determine if they are supported by evidence.  The UPL Committee’s focus is to prevent harm to the public. If you are concerned that someone may be practicing law without a license, please fill out the UPL Complaint Form in English or Spanish, and send it to the following address:

    OSB General Counsel’s Office
    Unlawful Practice of Law
    P.O. Box 231935
    Tigard, OR
    97281-1935



     

    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 Lawyer 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. You may also wish to visit the Oregon Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection or the Federal Trade Commission’s websites for more information.



    More questions?

    If you have additional questions about the unlawful practice of law, please contact Cassandra Stich at 503.620-0222 ext 334 or cstich@osbar.org.