June 1, 1973
Ethics Opinon 1973-9
SUBJECT: LAW STUDENTS AND THE UNAUTHORIZED PRACTICE OF LAW
May a law student, as the coordinator for a summer program for the Coast Watch Committee of San Diego organize and present oral and written materials to the Regional and State Coastal Commissions at their public meetings without fear of the accusation of engaging in the unauthorized practice of law?
Yes, provided the student observes certain restrictions.
STATUTES AND CANONS
The State Bar Act in Section 6125 of the Business and Professions Code specifies:
"No person shall practice law in this State unless he is an active member of the State Bar."
Section 6126 of the Business and Professions Code specifies:
"Any person advertising himself as practicing or entitled to practice law or otherwise practicing law, after he has been disbarred or while suspended from membership in the State Bar, or is not an active member of the State Bar is guilty of a misdemeanor."
Business and Professions Code section 6127 specifies:
"The following acts or omissions in respect to the practice of law are contempts of authority of the Court:
"(a) Assuming to be an officer or attorney of the Court and acting as such, without authority, (emphasis added).
"(b) Advertising or holding oneself out as practicing or entitled to practice law or otherwise practicing law in any Court, without being an active member of the State Bar."
Canon 47 of the American Bar Association Canons of Professional Ethics reads as follows:
"No lawyer shall permit his professional services, or his name, to be used in aid of, or to make possible, the unauthorized practice of law by any lay agency, personal or corporate."
The cited sections of the Business and Professions Code circumscribe the permissible activities of nonbar members. The cited Canon of Professional Ethics imposes restrictions upon attorneys who condone or assist the unauthorized practice of law. It is the writer's opinion that the proposed agreement between the student and the San Diego Coast Watch Committee protects both the affected attorneys and the student. The key provisions are those in the last paragraph of the proposed employment agreement which specify that the student's duties should not include any of the following:
(1) The rendering of legal opinions as an attorney to the committee or the Regional and State commissions.
(2) Negotiations with other attorneys on behalf of the committee.
(3) The preparation of legal arguments which are not clearly labeled to be the product of lay citizen-law student not practicing law, for submission to the regional or State Coastal commissions.
Conditioned upon the observation of the cited restrictions, the student's employment should not jeopardize his good standing as a law student or expose him to liability for the unauthorized practice of law.
This opinion is advisory only. It is not binding upon the State Bar, the Board of Governors, its agents or employees.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Committee reviewed this opinion in July 1976 and determined that the conclusion is valid. Canon 47 of the Canons of Professional Ethics was followed prior to 1970; this subject is now covered by Canon 3 of the A.B.A. Code of Professional Responsibility.
Disclaimer: This opinion was issued by the Legal Ethics Committee of the San Diego County Bar Association. It is advisory only and is not binding upon any member of the SDCBA, any other member of the State Bar of California, the State Bar of California or its Board of Governors, or any persons or tribunals charged with regulatory responsibilities. The SDCBA, its officers, directors, agents, and the Legal Ethics Committee members assume no responsibility or liability in rendering this opinion.