December 1, 2006

The unauthorized practice of law has long been a problem in the area of immigration, but it is a problem that is beginning to receive greater attention by the state of Tennessee. Because much of immigration is form-based (though the forms alone are rarely adequate!), many people mistakenly think that preparing and submitting immigration forms does not encroach upon the practice of law. Tennessee state law defines the “practice of law” as “the appearance as an adovcate in a representative capacity OR the drawing of papers, pleadings, or documents in connection with proceedings pending or prospective before any court, … OR ANY body, board, committee, or commission constituted by law…” (emphases added). Violations concerning the unauthorized practice of law are punishable by fines up to $10,000 per violation, as well as attorney’s fees and costs. Such lawsuits can be brought by both the state attorney general and by private citizens. The purpose of unauthorized practice of law statutes is the protection of the public against inappropriate advice, defective paperwork, and the loss of legal rights resulting from unqualified advocates. If you have been the victim of unauthorized practice of law or know of its existence, you can report such activities either to the local bar association or directly to the state attorney general’s office.