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Unauthorized Practice of Immigration Law by Non-Attorneys and
Unauthorized Practice of Law Generally by Notaries Public
Adopted November 8, 2006
(Text with Endnotes and Supporting Brief Redacted)
The Pennsylvania Bar Association Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL) Committee has received complaints over the past several years concerning practice of immigration law by non-attorneys who have not been authorized by the federal government to represent persons in immigration proceedings or to practice immigration law
In addition, to formal complaints to the committee, community agencies, consular representatives of the Mexican government, and attorneys active in immigrant communities have informally indicated that this problem is widespread in scope in many areas in the state.
The Committee has received information suggesting that non-attorneys including “visa consultants” based outside of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are practicing or seeking to practice immigration law in Pennsylvania. This includes internet advertising soliciting such business.
Some of the complaints received by the Committee and county bar associations in relationship to non-attorney practice of law in immigrant communities have involved Pennsylvania licensed notary publics who have sought to benefit from the fact that “notarios” or “notario publico” in many civil law countries, particularly in Latin America, are required to be attorneys.
The Committee issues this formal opinion to clarify the extremely limited scope of non-attorney practice of law and legal representation permissible under federal law and to provide notice of its intention to actively pursue unauthorized practiced of immigration law by any persons not authorized to practice law by federal regulations.
The Committee shall pursue the unauthorized practice of law generally by notaries public and others misrepresenting themselves to consumers as having legal skills or knowledge.
The Pennsylvania Bar Association Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL) Committee finds:
1. Except to the limited extent that federal regulations permit accredited representatives of qualified non-profit organizations to practice and represent persons in immigration related proceedings, persons who are not attorneys licensed to practice law may not provide legal advice or regular representation in relationship to immigration proceedings.
2. Notaries public, visa consultants or any other person who is not a licensed attorney or authorized representative pursuant to federal regulations may not engage in the representation of persons as defined in federal immigration regulations. The scope of the term “representation" is a very broad one. It includes activities which range from incidentally preparing papers for a person, selecting the appropriate government forms, to giving a person advice about his or her case, or to appearing before immigration officials on behalf of a person.
3. Any persons, including notaries public and visa consultants, other than licensed attorneys or accredited representatives of qualified non-profit organizations who assist in the completion of blank spaces on printed United States Customs and Immigration Service forms shall charge remuneration, if any, that is nominal.
4. Any persons other than licensed attorneys or accredited representatives of qualified non-profit organizations, including notaries public and visa consultants, who assist in the completion of blank spaces on printed United States Customs and Immigration Service forms or other government forms related to immigration related applications shall advise all persons to whom they provide assistance that the individual is not qualified in legal matters or in immigration and naturalization procedure.
5. Persons who assist others in preparing federal government immigration forms must at all times sign the forms as preparers of such forms where required to do so by the forms or regulations. Where a notary public, visa consultant or other person apart from an accredited representative or attorney prepares forms without signing such forms as preparers where required to do so, the preparer is fraudulently hiding a role as a preparer of such forms and preventing a determination as to whether they are engaged in unauthorized practice of law.
6. Persons who are authorized to be a “notaries public” shall not describe themselves in writing or orally as “notarios” or as a “notario publico” particularly when any person to whom they are providing or seeking to provide services are persons from Spanish speaking countries. Such terminology is in direct violation of 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 2524 forbidding the “equivalent in any language” of the title of lawyer or attorney at law.
7. Violation of these restrictions constitutes unauthorized practice of law contrary to 42 Pa. C.S.A. Chapter 25 and constitutes violations of the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.
8. Persons alleging violations of this Formal Opinion may forward written complaints of violations of this opinion to the Pennsylvania Bar Association Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL) Committee, 100 South Street - P.O. Box 186 - Harrisburg, PA 17108-0186, Fax: (717) 238-7182.