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The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission are criticizing a new effort to prevent nonlawyers from offering legal advice. A proposed model definition of the practice of law — now being considered by the American Bar Association — would reduce competition and force consumers to pay higher prices for a smaller range of services, the two agencies said in a joint letter sent to the ABA last week and made public Tuesday. The rule could, for example, be used to prevent lay service providers from closing real estate loans or to prohibit accountants, investment bankers and insurance adjusters from advising clients about various laws. “Those who would not pay for a lawyer would be forced to do so,” said Hewitt Pate, acting assistant attorney general for antitrust. “And traditionally, lawyers charge more than lay providers for such services. Without competition from nonlawyers, lawyers’ fees are likely to increase.” The proposed definition also could prohibit Web sites and software makers from helping consumers draft their own legal documents. The ABA says it is trying to protect the public from harm caused by unqualified or unscrupulous people rendering legal services. Lawyers must pass examinations and are subject to ethics reviews, malpractice suits and court discipline, while nonlawyers are not. An ABA task force will hold meetings on the proposed rule in February. ABA offices were closed Tuesday and officials could not be reached for comment. The group has not yet responded to the government’s letter. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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