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The Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee filed suit on Sept. 17 against a California-based company, alleging that it operates a document preparation service which provides legal advice by nonlawyers. UPLC v. Alight Inc. d/b/a We the People Texas Inc., filed in Dallas County, Texas’ 44th District Court, requests injunctive relief against the company. We The People opened a storefront legal-document preparation business in Dallas in 2003. The UPLC is a nine-member committee appointed by the Texas Supreme Court that is responsible for policing the unauthorized practice of law in the state. In its petition, the UPLC requests a temporary injunction hearing in the hopes of preventing We The People from violating the Texas UPL statute by continuing to provide legal advice, selecting legal forms and preparing those legal forms for Texas residents. According to � 81 of the Texas Government Code, only members of the State Bar of Texas, lawyers licensed in another state and law students can practice law in Texas. Peter Kennedy, a partner in Austin’s George & Donaldson who represents We The People, says the company is not violating the UPL statute. Jason Searns, general counsel for We The People, says the business, which has about 130 offices in 27 states, provides consumers with low-cost tools to handle simple legal matters themselves. Searns says We The People customers fill out a workbook for their desired legal actions. The workbook is faxed to a processing center. Then a legal assistant pulls up a template and fills in the blanks based on the answers the customer gave in the workbook. Those templates are all prepared by a supervisory attorney in each state in which We The People does business. “The processor completes it, it is electronically sent back to the office, downloaded at the office, and the consumer signs it,” Searns says. “That’s the whole thing in a nutshell.” But Leland De La Garza, chairman of the Dallas UPL subcommittee, alleges that what We The People does constitutes the unauthorized practice of law. In recent years, the UPLC has sued publishers of legal self-help books and the publisher of legal self-help software. Those suits prompted the Texas Legislature in 1999 to amend the definition of “unauthorized practice of law” found in �81.101 of the Texas Government Code to make it clear that self-help publications do not violate the law. But the UPLC’s suit against We The People is different because nonlawyers allegedly help customers prepare the documents, say two UPLC members. “The way they’ve set this up, they’re not selling you the form. They’re selling you the service,” De La Garza alleges. And the way the business is run, it’s unavoidable that nonlawyers provide customers with legal advice, says Rodney Gilstrap, chairman of the UPLC and a partner in Marshall’s Smith & Gilstrap. “They can’t do what they’re doing without advising people of their substantive rights and we believe that constitutes the unauthorized practice of law,” Gilstrap says. But Searns says We The People employees do not make legal decisions for customers. “In each office there are two conspicuous signs that say we’re not attorneys, and we cannot give legal advice,” Searns says. The office has a supervisory attorney the customers can call to get answers to questions, but the customers are not allowed to meet with the attorney nor does the attorney represent the customer. “We don’t have people selling children wills on the street corner,” Searns adds. Searns says that We The People has met with numerous UPL committees across the nation to explain its business model. We The People met with Texas UPL committee members this year, he says, and he is disconcerted that the committee decided to file the suit. Kennedy says the suit simply is an attempt by the UPLC to prevent Texans from having access to low-cost legal services. “You have to keep in mind this is brought to you by the same people who sought to ban [legal self-help] books in Texas,” Kennedy says. “And certainly the committee has been active in a number of things, the result of which denies consumers choices in how they handle legal matters. That’s what We The People does.”

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