Rhode Island RI Unauthorized Practice Of Law Criminal Statute

CHAPTER 11-27

Law Practice

§ 11-27-1  ”Hold himself or herself out” and “person” defined. – (a) “Hold himself or herself out” as used in this chapter includes the following: the assumption, use, or advertisement of the title of lawyer, attorney, attorney at law, counselor, counselor at law, solicitor, or any term or terms conveying the idea that the person in connection with whose name they or any of them are used is competent, qualified, authorized, or entitled to practice law, or the use of any kind of sign, token, symbol, card, letterhead, envelope, stationery, circular, or other writing, printing, or painting, or any representation by word or act, the purpose or tendency of which is to convey that idea.

(b) “Person” when used in the phrase “another person” in this chapter, unless the context otherwise requires, includes partnerships, corporations, and associations.

§ 11-27-2  ”Practice of law” defined. – “Practice law” as used in this chapter means the doing of any act for another person usually done by attorneys at law in the course of their profession, and, without limiting the generality of the definitions in this section, includes the following:

(1) The appearance or acting as the attorney, solicitor, or representative of another person before any court, referee, master, auditor, division, department, commission, board, judicial person, or body authorized or constituted by law to determine any question of law or fact or to exercise any judicial power, or the preparation of pleadings or other legal papers incident to any action or other proceeding of any kind before or to be brought before the court or other body;

(2) The giving or tendering to another person for a consideration, direct or indirect, of any advice or counsel pertaining to a law question or a court action or judicial proceeding brought or to be brought;

(3) The undertaking or acting as a representative or on behalf of another person to commence, settle, compromise, adjust, or dispose of any civil or criminal case or cause of action;

(4) The preparation or drafting for another person of a will, codicil, corporation organization, amendment, or qualification papers, or any instrument which requires legal knowledge and capacity and is usually prepared by attorneys at law.

§ 11-27-3  Receipt of fees as practice of law. – (a) Except as provided in subsection (b), any person, partnership, corporation, or association that receives any fee or any part of a fee for the services performed by an attorney at law shall be deemed to be practicing law contrary to the provisions of this chapter.

(b) A lawyer or law firm may agree to share a statutory or tribunal-approved fee award, or a settlement in a matter eligible for such an award, with an organization that referred the matter to the lawyer or law firm if: (i) the organization is one that is not for profit; (ii) the organization is tax-exempt under federal law; (iii) the fee award or settlement is made in connection with a proceeding to advance one or more of the purposes by virtue of which the organization is tax-exempt; and (iv) the client consents in a written representation that a division of fees will be made.

§ 11-27-4  Forwarding of claim not deemed practice of law. – The sending of a claim of a nonresident by a nonresident collection agency to an attorney at law in this state, who is to act solely as agent of the creditor and who is not to be subject to the direction or control of the collection agency, and who does not divide with the collection agency either his or her commission or fee for legal services, shall not be deemed to be practicing law.

§ 11-27-5  Practice restricted to members of bar. – No person, except a duly admitted member of the bar of this state, whose authority as a member to practice law is in full force and effect, shall practice law in this state.

§ 11-27-6  Compensation of unqualified persons for legal services prohibited. – No person, who is not a member of the bar under § 11-27-5, shall receive any pay or compensation, directly or indirectly, except any forwarding fee of an attorney at law of another state, for any services of any legal nature that are usually done by attorneys at law pertaining to any action or proceeding in any court or before any referee, master, auditor, commission, division, department, board, or other judicial person or body, or for the preparation of any legal instrument, and no court or other judicial person or body shall allow any pay or fee for that service to any person not a member of the bar under § 11-27-5, nor shall any executor, administrator, guardian, trustee, fiduciary, or another person employ or pay for the services any person not a member of the bar under § 11-27-5.

This section shall not be deemed to apply to an organization, or its representatives, meeting the criteria contained in subsection 11-27-3(b).

§ 11-27-7  Filling out and signing of process and communications – Business association with laymen. – No attorney at law shall sell any writ of judicial process to any person, except to a member of the bar under § 11-27-5, nor shall he or she deliver any writ or judicial process to another person, and authorize him, her, or it to fill out and issue the writ or judicial process with his or her name on it as the attorney at law, except that the attorney may so authorize any clerk employed by him or her or registered student in his or her office, acting under his or her direction, or any person who is a member of the bar under § 11-27-5, and no person, who is not a member of the bar under § 11-27-5, or not a clerk or student so acting, shall fill out or issue any writ or judicial process for another person, except that nothing in this section shall apply to any justice, or judge or clerk of court, or any notary public or justice of the peace or other official or public boards or commissions acting within his, her, or their authority under the laws of this state. No attorney at law shall authorize any person, except a clerk employed by him or her or a registered student in his or her office acting under his or her direction, or a member of the bar, to use or sign the attorney’s name in writing or print in or to any letter or communication calling for the payment of any bill or account or threatening any suit or legal proceeding. No attorney at law shall, together with any other person who is not a member of the bar under § 11-27-5, have or conduct, or advertise or represent in any manner, that they have or conduct a law office or a law and collection office.

§ 11-27-8  Solicitation of business by agents prohibited. – No person, partnership, corporation, or association shall act in any manner or in any capacity as an agent for an attorney at law in the solicitation or procurement of any law business, and every contract for professional services secured by an attorney at law through the services of an agent shall be void.

This section shall not be deemed to apply to an organization, or its representatives, meeting the criteria contained in subsection 11-27-3(b).

§ 11-27-9  Restriction on acts of insurance claim adjusters. – No insurance claim adjuster or claim agent of any insurance company or public utility corporation shall advise any claimant, who has suffered injury or damage to his or her person or property, or his or her parent, guardian, next friend or other personal representative in respect to his or her legal rights or lack of legal rights arising out of any claim for that injury or damage, or advise any of them not to employ an attorney at law relative to that injury, damage or claim, or represent to any of them that if an attorney at law should be employed the claim would not be settled, or convey that idea by any other words, and no insurance claim adjuster, claim agent, or other agent of the corporation or company shall compromise, or attempt to compromise, any claim through or by means of the intervention of any person other than the claimant, a member of his or her family, his or her guardian or other personal representative, or his or her attorney at law; provided, that a violation of this section shall in no way affect civil rights.

§ 11-27-10  Agreement or offer to furnish legal services. – No person or persons, except members of the bar, either in his, her or their own name or names or under any firm or trade name, shall furnish or agree to furnish legal advice, service or counsel, nor furnish or agree to furnish an attorney at law, nor advertise in any manner that he, she, or they will furnish or agree to furnish legal services or advice or the services of an attorney at law. This prohibition shall not be deemed to apply to an organization, or its representatives, meeting the criteria contained in subsection 11-27-3(b). Nothing in this section shall be deemed to permit members of the bar to advertise contrary to the ethics of their profession.

§ 11-27-11  Practices permitted to persons not members of bar. – Nothing in §§ 11-27-5 – 11-27-11 shall be construed to limit or prevent:

(1) Clerks of court and recorders of deeds from the drafting of any legal instruments that may be necessary for the proper conduct and discharge of their respective offices and duties.

(2) Clerks or registered students in law offices from acting under the direction of a member of the bar of this state whose authority as a member to practice law is in full force and effect.

(3) Any person from occasionally collecting or adjusting any unassigned claim of or against any member of his or her household or of or against his or her regular and principal employer.

(4) The performance of any service personally performed by any natural person acting as administrator, executor, guardian, trustee, or other fiduciary in the preparation, rendering, and allowance of inventories, accounts, tax returns, or other services personally performed by him or her in relation to the fiduciary estate without the intervention of another person.

(5) Town clerks from drafting deeds and mortgages and transfers and discharges of deeds and mortgages for recording in their own offices.

(6) Any person from drawing, in the regular course of his or her regular business or employment, any note, bill, draft, bill of sale, conditional bill of sale, or any ordinary business agreement, to which he or she or his or her regular and principal employer is a party.

(7) Any certified public accountant or member of the American Institute of Accountants from appearing or acting as a representative of another person before any federal, state, or municipal department, board, division, department, commission, agency, or any body other than a court, authorized or constituted by law to determine any question of fact, affecting the imposition or adjustment of taxes or regarding any financial or accounting matter, or from preparing for or on behalf of another person any federal, state, or municipal return or report of any nature or description, or advising another person in relation to the preparation of any such return or report.

(8) Any person registered to practice before the Interstate Commerce Commission or member of the Association of Practitioners before the Interstate Commerce Commission from appearing or acting as representative of another person before any federal, state, or municipal department, board, commission, agency, or any body other than a court, authorized or constituted by law to determine any question of fact, affecting the rights of any carrier of persons or property in intrastate or interstate commerce, or from preparing for or on behalf of another person any federal, state, or municipal application, report or other writing of any nature or description, or advising another person in relation to the preparation of the application, report, or other writing.

(9) Any public accountant from advising a taxpayer in connection with the imposition or adjustment of taxes or any person from preparing for or on behalf of a taxpayer any federal, state, or municipal tax return or tax report, provided the person or public accountant regularly audits or examines the accounting records of the taxpayer or any person from preparing for or on behalf of a taxpayer any federal, state, or municipal personal income tax return.

§ 11-27-12  Unauthorized holding out as qualified to practice law. – No person, except a duly admitted member of the bar of this state, whose authority as a member to practice law is in full force and effect, shall assume to be an attorney or counselor at law or hold himself or herself out in any manner to the public or to another person as being competent, qualified, authorized, or entitled to practice law in this state.

§ 11-27-13  Visiting attorneys. – The provisions of §§ 11-27-1, 11-27-2, and 11-27-5 – 11-27-14 shall not apply to visiting attorneys at law, duly authorized to practice law before the courts of record in another state, while temporarily in this state on legal business, or while permitted to conduct or argue any case in this state according to the rules of practice of the supreme court, but no visiting attorney shall issue or indorse, as attorney, any writ of any court of this state.

§ 11-27-14  Penalties for violations. – Any person violating any of the provisions of this chapter shall, upon a first conviction, be imprisoned for a term not exceeding one year, or fined not exceeding five hundred dollars ($500), or both. Any firm, corporation, or other entity violating any of the provisions of this chapter shall, upon a first conviction, be fined not exceeding five hundred dollars ($500). Every person having been convicted of a subsequent offense involving the unauthorized practice of law in this state or in any other jurisdiction shall, for each offense, be imprisoned for a term not exceeding five (5) years, or be fined not exceeding five thousand dollars ($5,000), or both. Every firm, corporation, or other entity having been convicted of a subsequent offense involving the unauthorized practice of law in this state or in any other jurisdiction shall, for each offense, be fined not exceeding five thousand dollars ($5,000).

§ 11-27-15  [Superseded.]. –

§ 11-27-16  Practices permitted to corporations and associations. – (a) Nothing in §§ 11-27-2 – 11-27-11 or §§ 11-27-16 – 11-27-18 shall be construed to limit or prevent:

(1) Any corporation, or its officers or agents, lawfully engaged in the insuring of titles to real property from conducting its business, and the drawing of deeds, mortgages, and other legal instruments in or in connection with the conduct of the business of the corporation;

(2) Any public utility corporation or insurance company, or its officers or agents, from adjusting claims against the corporation or company or those insured by the company with the restrictions provided in § 11-27-9, or the company, or its officers or agents, from advertising to furnish or from furnishing any attorney at law to represent those insured by the company as provided in its policies;

(3) Any corporation or association, or its officers or agents, from drawing, in the regular course of its business, any note, bill, draft, bill of sale, conditional bill of sale, or any ordinary business agreement to which it is a party;

(4) Any corporate administrator, executor, guardian, trustee, or other fiduciary, or its officers or agents, from preparing and filing inventories and accounts and income, inheritance, and estate tax returns, and from attending to the allowance of uncontested accounts in relation to the fiduciary estates;

(5) Any nonprofit sharing credit corporation or association, or its officers or agents, licensed under former Chapter 1782 of the Public Laws, 1931, from collecting or adjusting, as incidental to its main purposes, contract claims of its own members. However, if the aid of any court is to be invoked on a claim, it shall be turned back to the creditor member for reference to his or her own attorney at law;

(6) Any nonprofit sharing automobile service corporation or association, or its officers or agents, from furnishing the services of an attorney at law, who resides and practices exclusively in another state or country, to its members who reside in this state;

(7) Any person or corporation, or its officers or clerks, whose principal source of income is his or its commissions or profits from his, her, or its selling or leasing real estate, or both, and who regularly maintains an office for that purpose, from drafting deeds, mortgages, leases, and agreements in connection with sales or leases made or negotiated by him, her, or it; provided, that in every such case the drafter shall so endorse his or her full name and business address upon the face of the instrument that the endorsement will be recorded if the instrument is recorded;

(8) Any automobile club or association from paying or agreeing to pay for the services of an attorney to advise and defend its members, providing the attorney is of the member’s own selection and is not subject to the control of the club or association; or

(9) Any nonprofit credit counseling corporation or association, or its officers or agents, from providing financial and budgetary advice and judgment to individuals in connection with:

(i) The creation of a budgetary plan;

(ii) The creation of a plan whereby an individual turns over an agreed amount of his or her income to a nonprofit credit counseling corporation which distributes it to his or her creditors in accordance with a plan which they have approved and which may provide for smaller payments or a longer term than the original contract;

(iii) The providing of educational services relating to the use of credit; or

(iv) Any combination of paragraphs (i) through (iii) of this subdivision.

(b) No corporation established for the purpose of providing credit counseling shall engage in the practice of law, and an individual receiving credit counseling shall, when necessary, be referred to an attorney of his or her own choice, the local bar association referral service, or a local legal aid program, whichever may seem most appropriate.

§ 11-27-17  Penalty for violations by corporation. – Any corporation violating any of the provisions of §§ 11-27-3, 11-27-4, and 11-27-16 – 11-27-18 shall be fined not exceeding five thousand dollars ($5,000), and every officer, director, trustee, agent, or employee of any corporation or association who, directly or indirectly, engages in any of the acts prohibited in this chapter, or assists a corporation or association to do any prohibited acts, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be subject to the penalty prescribed in § 11-27-14. The fact that any officer, trustee, director, agent, or employer shall be entitled to practice law in this state shall not be held to permit or allow any corporation or association to do any of the acts prohibited in this chapter, nor shall that fact be a defense upon the trial of any corporation or of any of the persons mentioned in this section for a violation of any of the provisions of §§ 11-27-3, 11-27-4, and 11-27-16 – 11-27-18.

§ 11-27-18  Legal Aid Society – Powers of supreme court. – Nothing in §§ 11-27-1 – 11-27-17 shall be deemed to apply to the Legal Aid Society of Rhode Island, or be construed in any way as an attempt to affect or as affecting the right of the supreme court to regulate and discipline members of the bar for breach of their duties.

§ 11-27-19  Unauthorized practice of law committee – Powers and duties – Duties of attorney general. – (a) There is established an unauthorized practice of law committee to be appointed by the supreme court consisting of any number that shall be determined by the supreme court.

(b) It shall be the duty of the attorney general and the unauthorized practice of law committee to enforce the provisions of this chapter and to investigate and prosecute all violations. It shall be the duty of the attorney general to prosecute all criminal violations. The superior court shall have jurisdiction to restrain and enjoin any of the acts prohibited in this chapter upon a complaint brought by the attorney general, by any member of the bar of this state whose authority as a member to practice law is in full force and effect or by the unauthorized practice of law committee.

(c) The unauthorized practice of law committee may sue in its own name for the purpose of civil litigation as provided by this section.

(d) The unauthorized practice of law committee shall have the following duties and powers:

(1) To adopt, amend, and rescind any rules and regulations that it deems necessary to carry out the provisions of this section, a copy of which rules and regulations shall be filed with the secretary of state and available for public inspection.

(2) To investigate all reports of activities which may constitute unauthorized practice of law and to hold hearings to determine whether the charges are substantiated or unsubstantiated;

(3) To appoint legal counsel and any assistants that the committee deems necessary to act for the committee in investigating complaints brought before it;

(4) To make contracts and arrangements for the performance of administrative and similar services required or appropriate in the performance of the committee’s duties;

(5) To issue subpoenas and administer oaths in connection with any investigations, hearings, or other proceedings held under the authority of this chapter;

(6) To take or cause depositions to be taken as needed in any investigation, hearing, or proceeding;

(7) To summon and examine witnesses during any investigation, hearing, or proceeding conducted by the committee;

(e) There shall be no liability on the part of, and no cause of action of any nature shall arise against, the unauthorized practice of law committee, its agents, or its employees, or its members or against any organization or its members or other witnesses and parties to the committee’s proceedings for any statements made by them in documents, reports, communications, or testimony concerning any investigation of the conduct of any person, firm, corporation, or other entity alleged to be engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.

(f) Subpoenas may be issued by the committee on its own motion to compel the production of documents or other written records or the attendance of witnesses at any investigation or hearing. The committee may issue subpoenas at the request and on behalf of the accused. In the event that any person contumaciously refuses to obey a subpoena or answer any proper question put to that person during a hearing or proceeding, the superior court shall have jurisdiction upon application by the committee to issue that person an order requiring the person to appear before the committee, there to produce evidence if so ordered, or there to give testimony concerning the matter under investigation. The committee shall have the power to request the superior court to punish all intentional disregard of the court orders as contempt.

(g) Within thirty (30) days, if practical, after holding a hearing, the committee shall make a written report of its findings of fact and its recommendation, and the report shall be immediately transmitted to the chief justice of the supreme court with a transcript of the evidence. A copy of the report shall be furnished to the accused.

(h) The administration of the committee shall be funded from annual fees to be determined by the supreme court. These fees shall be charged to and apportioned among the licensed attorneys and counselors of the supreme court of this state, the payment of which shall be a condition to practicing in the state of Rhode Island. Monies shall be received by the supreme court in the same manner as lawyers’ registration fees and credited to a fund known as the unauthorized practice of law committee administration fund. All monies in the fund shall be utilized only for the purpose of maintaining, managing, operating, and administering the unauthorized practice of law committee in carrying out its functions. The committee shall make an annual financial report to the supreme court of Rhode Island.

§ 11-27-20  Repealed. –

Legal Notice per RI Rules of Professional Responsibility:

The Rhode Island Supreme Court licenses all lawyers and attorneys in the general practice of law, but does not license or certify any lawyer/ attorney as an expert or specialist in any field of practice.