Court Adopts New Rules to Address Legal Services Provided by Non-Lawyers
The Wyoming State Bar today announced the adoption of updated rules that address situations where legal services may be provided by non-lawyers and also provide an enforcement mechanism to deal with those who are harming the public through the unauthorized practice of law.
The Wyoming State Bar is a mandatory bar; therefore, any person wishing to practice law here must be a member. However, the Bar recognizes that there are situations where licensed professionals such as realtors, bankers, and accountants perform limited legal services within their areas of expertise.
“The ever-growing demand for legal services has spawned a number of businesses offering such services performed by non-lawyers,” said Mark W. Gifford, Bar Counsel for the Wyoming State Bar. “In some instances, there is little risk to the public; however, when legal services are offered by non-lawyers without the appropriate training, consumers may be put at risk.”
On April 29, 2014, the Wyoming Supreme Court adopted the new rules which continue to prohibit legal services by non-lawyers but carve out exceptions for certain groups performing services within their areas of expertise, including licensed financial institutions, licensed real estate agents and brokers, Certified Public Accountants, licensed engineers and land surveyors, petroleum landmen and others.
“The Court’s recently-adopted rules also improve protection of the public by providing a more effective enforcement mechanism for cases in which untrained non-lawyers engage in the unauthorized practice of law, thereby exposing the public to harm,” said Gifford.
Lawyer-prepared legal forms used for bank loans and real estate transactions can usually be completed competently by non-lawyers who have received suitable training. Similarly, the public seeks tax advice and other financial services from Certified Public Accountants. Licensed professionals, including realtors, bankers and professional accountants are subject to regulation by government agencies and are trained to recognize when a lawyer’s assistance may be necessary.
The Wyoming State Bar cautions the public about legal forms that are easily accessible. These companies often claim to be compliant with Wyoming law but often are not. National debt counseling, collection groups, and companies promising spectacular results in settling tax liens are part of a growing industry of non-lawyers peddling legal services. Often, there is no licensing or regulatory body to assure that such firms are competent to perform these services.
Throughout the country, courts and state bar associations are struggling to develop systems to keep untrained non-lawyers from harming the public by providing legal services for which they do not have appropriate training and oversight, while allowing for such services by non-lawyers who possess the training and experience to perform them in a competent manner.
“The process we underwent to get to this point was a collaborative effort by both lawyers and non-lawyers,” said Gifford. “It was important to the Bar and to the Court that we hear from realtors, accountants, title insurance companies, and other non-lawyers in order to gather as much information as possible to produce something that worked for all parties but, most importantly, provided the public protection about which we feel so strongly.”
During the rule revision process, there was a public comment period and the Bar received dozens of suggestions from petroleum landmen, licensed engineers and surveyors, realtors, accountants, title insurance companies and others.
To see these newly adopted rules, Click here.