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                                    176 N.J.L.J. 1195
                                    June 21, 2004

                                    13 N.J.L. 1311
                                    June 21, 2004

Appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court


Businesses and Individuals
Providing Services to the
Public in the Preparation and
Filing of Paperwork sold in
“Do-it-Yourself” kits.


    The issue considered in this Opinion is the extent to which a business or individual not licensed to practice law in this state may provide services to the public in the preparation and filing of paperwork sold in “Do-it-Yourself” kits. The Opinion arises from multiple grievances received from sitting judges and from other persons who complained about kits, or were given services beyond the mere purchase of the kits, or who were provided with legal assistance or advice by lay persons or non-New Jersey admitted attorneys. Some judges have advised the Committee that in certain instances the relief requested from the court by those persons using the services of these businesses and individuals may not have been available or appropriate.
Recognizing the law as set forth in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350, 97 S. Ct. 2691, 53 L.Ed.2d 810 (1977), this Committee’s Opinion No. 20, and New Jersey State Bar v. Divorce Center of Atlantic City, 194 N.J. Super. 532 (App. Div. 1984), the Committee believes that this Opinion is necessary for guidance of consumers and providers of “do it yourself” kits. Kits, booklets, forms, and information for preparing pro se court applications now are available not only for divorce matters, but also for wills, powers of attorney, living wills, medical decision-making assignments, tax assessment appeals, bankruptcies, incorporations, and other legal documents and actions. This Opinion is intended to provide businesses and individuals with guidance on permissible conduct so as to prevent harm, expense and delay to consumers interested in legal self-representation; its purpose is to assure that there is no unauthorized practice of law.
Art. VI, §2, ¶3 of the New Jersey Constitution of 1947 confers on the New Jersey Supreme Court exclusive and plenary jurisdiction to regulate the practice of law. The practice of law by an individual or entity not licensed to do so is unauthorized and proscribed by R. 1-21-1(a). The court’s power over the practice of law is complete and includes the power to permit the practice of law and prohibit its unauthorized practice. In re Opinion 37 of the Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law, 163 N.J.L.J.221 (2001), citing In re Opinion No. 26, 139 N.J. 323 at 326 (1995). Engaging in the practice of law by non-lawyers is also prohibited by criminal statute under N.J.S.A. 2C: 21-22. It has been determined that one who assists in the preparation of pleadings and who is not the litigant and who is not licensed to practice law in the State of New Jersey is engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. In re Opinion No. 26 of Committee on Unauth. Pract., 139 N.J. 323 at 326 (1995). However, if the public interest would be compromised, strict adherence to such a position may not be warranted. In re Opinion No. 14, 98 N.J.L.J. 399 (1975), and see Appell v. Reiner, 43 N.J. 313 (1964).
The rendering of any assistance in person, in writing , electronically or otherwise in the preparation, review, analysis and completion of “do-it-yourself” kits, forms, booklets and the like constitutes the unauthorized practice of law and is prohibited. If the materials and “step-by-step” instructions require someone other than the purchaser to analyze or make a determination that entails the exercise of “specialized knowledge and ability” [see New Jersey State Bar Association v. Northern New Jersey Mortgage Associates, 32 N. J. 430 (1960) and Stack v. P.G. Garage, Inc., 7 N.J. 118 (1951)] as to the information to be included in the forms or if the salesperson or other individual assists in that analysis or determination, there is the unauthorized practice of law.
    Although non-lawyers who sell “Do-it-Yourself” kits may help the purchaser by typing, transcribing, or translating, they are not permitted to counsel, advise, analyze, or otherwise help the purchaser complete the forms in the kits. In many kits, there are pleadings and other forms that require information that may have a significant impact on the proponent’s rights. In fact, the name of the kits, "Do-it-Yourself,” plainly speaks to their nature. The purchaser should be able to do the legal tasks described in the kit by himself or herself.
    It is clear that there will be a continuing risk to the public if the practices under review in this Opinion are not addressed. The purchaser of a kit, accepting guidance from a non-lawyer service provider, may believe that the service provider has some special knowledge or expertise. Pertinent, even critical, information that should be included in the pleading or document being prepared may be omitted. A self-represented litigant may also fail to properly exclude damaging or irrelevant information.
    For the foregoing reasons, it is the Committee’s opinion that although the sale of “Do-it-Yourself” kits is permissible, and that a non-lawyer seller may assist the purchaser by typing, transcribing, or translating, the rendering of any other assistance with the preparation, review, analysis, or completion of materials included in these kits in person, in writing, electronically, or otherwise constitutes the unauthorized practice of law and is therefore prohibited.


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