Forms and UPL

A post on the Paralegal Today listserv discussion forum asked whether the sharing of legal forms opened paralegals up to a charge of UPL. The following analysis and response is reprinted in full with permission from its author, Wendy Kimbel, ACP, NCCP, Paralegal Assistance, Inc.:

Sharing the form is not the issue; determining what type of form is appropriate for what situation is where the legal judgment issue arises.

It is my position that by participating in this forum, one represents oneself as being a paralegal or otherwise a member of the legal community (in which I include paralegal/law students). So, when someone here requests a form for X purpose and members respond, the responding member is sharing his or her form which he or she believes does X. Whether that form, in fact, does X is a judgment call to be made by the ultimate user. For any member working for an attorney, the attorney is the ultimate user. For independent paralegals, most of us are still working for attorneys, so same thing.

If an independent paralegal is not working directly for an attorney, it is his/her responsibility to know what is permitted in his/her jurisdiction and to comply with the rules. Again, there is no judgment call being made by the person who provides the form.

Where the issue arises is when one is dealing with someone outside the legal community. When someone asks specifically for a motion and order for an extension of time to file answer to a complaint and the responder provides standard forms generally recognized in the legal community, it’s no more UPL for one of us to provide the forms than it is for an online site to do so. However, if I did it (which I wouldn’t in my jurisdiction because we have no latitude), it would come with a written disclaimer stating that I had not participated in the selection of the form for the user’s purpose and was only providing a form which bore the name requested.

If someone asks, “What form do I need to use for X?” the UPL happens in answering that question, which is a legal judgment, not in providing the form.

In North Carolina, our AOC has quite a few forms online. The site has a simple search function. I’m free to direct anybody to that sight so they can find a form; however, even though they are standard forms, it’s UPL if I tell someone outside the legal community which form to use in which situation, with the exception of cover sheets when those are required. I’m allowed to tell them about cover sheets because those are an administrative form–but I’m not allowed to tell someone how to make selections when filling them out (which makes sense when you know the form).

My conclusion on form sharing is: Here [on the forum] it’s good. Offline within the legal community it’s good. Outside the legal community, stick to directing folks to publicly available resources. But that’s North Carolina. Other jurisdictions may vary.

Here’s some more about Wendy and the paralegal profession in North Carolina. ( I recently posted on an interesting ethics opinion form NC.) :
Wendy is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She attained her NALA certification in January 1988, her NALA Real Estate Specialty in December 1988, and her NALA Corporate & Business Law Speciality in January 2000. Wendy is also a North Carolina State Bar Certified Paralegal, having attained that designation in 2005, the initial year of the program. She has been assisting attorneys in the private practice of law on May 15, 1978, the day after she graduated from UNC-CH. She deals in transactions involving money and property, i.e., real estate, small business, contracts, wills, trusts, estates, probate and related matters.
Wendy reports:
Unlike some jurisdictions, in North Carolina we have some fairly specific guidelines about what constitutes the practice of law. If you’re interested, they can be found here:
We do have one interesting exception to our UPL statutes, which comes from our ethics opinions. There is one class of people to whom I may give legal advice: attorneys licensed to practice in North Carolina. By definition, they are presumed to exercise independent legal judgment in evaluating what I tell them.
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