Pennsylvania Bar Association Applauds New Law Protecting Spanish-speaking Consumers

HARRISBURG (Oct. 9, 2013) - The Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) today applauded state legislators for approving, and the governor for signing, legislation prohibiting notaries public from engaging in false or deceptive advertising, preparing or offering to prepare legal documents and providing legal advice. The new law prohibits notaries public from the misuse of the term "notario publico," a designation in Spanish-speaking countries that permits an appropriately licensed individual to practice law.

"This law is an important legal victory for Spanish-speaking and other individuals who have fallen victim to notaries public and other non-lawyers who have abused the term 'notario publico' for their own financial gain," said Forest N. Myers, president, Pennsylvania Bar Association. "We are pleased that the governor and the Legislature worked with us on this important consumer protection measure."

Since 2007, the PBA Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL) Committee has investigated complaints against notaries public and other non-lawyers misrepresenting their ability to serve clients. The UPL Committee has sent numerous cease and desist letters to offenders and has informed the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General and, where appropriate, contacted local district attorneys' offices to encourage legal action against offenders. The committee also referred complaints to the Pennsylvania Department of State Professional Compliance Office, which licenses notaries and has the authority to pursue penalties against those who violate the notary public law and other professional licensing statutes.

"Any notaries public and other non-lawyers using the term 'notario publico' have been misrepresenting their knowledge and their authorization to serve clients in important legal matters such as immigration," said William F. Hoffmeyer, co-chair of the PBA UPL. "From this day going forward, only lawyers admitted to practice law in Pennsylvania can use the term 'notario publico,' which ensures that Spanish-speaking and other clients are represented by legal professionals who have the education, training and authority to represent them before government agencies and to provide advice concerning legal documents."

"We are proud of the steps the PBA was able to take to pinpoint and take action against notaries and other non-lawyers who were inappropriately engaging in legal issues," said Myers. "But, that being said, we believe this new law will have a broad and lasting impact that will protect individuals in legal matters and, hopefully, will put our UPL committee out of the business of taking actions against abusers of the 'notario publico' designation."

Founded in 1895, the PBA exists to promote justice, professional excellence and respect of the law; improve public understanding of the legal system; facilitate access to legal services; and serve the 28,000 lawyers who are members of the association.