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What constitutes practicing law without a license?

Ken Little

To practice law in North Carolina, “One must graduate from an accredited law school and be admitted to the bar through the bar exam or county, which means that one state allows another state’s attorney if the attorney has practiced law a certain number of years,” said Wanda Copley, New Hanover County attorney.

Paralegals can perform some legal work such as title searches under the supervision of an attorney, Copley said.

R. Lynn Coleman, Wilmington assistant city attorney, said there is no precise definition of the practice of law in state statutes or case law.

However, Coleman said, two North Carolina statutes provide examples of the activities that constitute the practice of law.

According to the N.C. Bar Association, only active members of the North Carolina State Bar may engage in the practice of law in North Carolina.

“Any person other than an active member of the North Carolina State Bar who engages in the practice of law for another commits the unauthorized practice of law in violation of Chapter 84 of the North Carolina General Statutes, unless the acts are performed under the direction and active supervision of a licensed North Carolina attorney. It is a class 1 criminal misdemeanor to engage in the unauthorized practice of law,” according to the bar association website.

A non-lawyer may represent himself on any legal matter.

“A person commits the unauthorized practice of law only by performing acts constituting the practice of law for another person or entity,” according to the state bar.

Information included in the “FAQ” section of the state bar website states that the state bar “has the authority by statute to investigate allegations of unauthorized practice of law, as well as the district attorney.”

The state bar may seek injunctive relief, and district attorneys can prosecute charges of unauthorized practice of law as a class 1 criminal misdemeanor.

The Authorized Practice Committee of the North Carolina State Bar investigates complaints of unauthorized practice of law. To discuss matters relating to the unauthorized practice of law, contact David Johnson at the N. C. State Bar at (919) 828-4620.

Related links:

What do state statutes have to say about the concept of “citizens’ arrest”?

How do I get free legal advice?

How do I find a lawyer?

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3 Responses to “ What constitutes practicing law without a license?”

  1. On December 20, 2012 at 8:13 pm William Kennady wrote:

    One does not become a defendant until the prosecutor charges him and he enters a plea in the presence of a magistrate, the arraignment process.
    When a law enforcement officer presents me with a citation that says “defendant’s copy”, he is informing me that I have become a defendant.
    He is assuming the power of a magistrate which he doesn’t have. A magistrate requires a law license. The officer has attempted to practice law without a license.
    What do you think?

  2. On January 3, 2013 at 5:32 pm Susan wrote:

    Responding to the previous reply: Magistrates don’t have to be lawyers.
    “Magistrates are appointed to two-year terms by the senior resident Superior Court judge from among persons nominated by the clerk of superior court. The chief District Court judge sets their work schedules. A magistrate must have a four-year degree from an institution of higher learning or a two-year degree plus four years of relevant work experience.”


  3. On April 17, 2014 at 10:17 am ms. session wrote:

    My son is right now involved in a situation in North Carolina with an ex girlfriend. To retaliate she has filed 9 false charges against him after their break up. He has a restraining order against her. This ticked her off. I think North Carolina’s laws about letting someone file as many charges as they want is ludicrous. It takes up valuable court time and everyone’s time. This way of using the legal system is wrong. It also pads the pockets of many attorneys. Who can afford an attorney to go to court 9 times for false charges. she has a mental imbalance and did this to her last boyfriend. It took him 2 years to get out of the mess she caused and $20,000. Why isn’t there a law to force how many times you can charge someone with something that is frivolous or made up. The magistrate is not a Judge. These cases should be heard by a judge not just a magistrate. Is there anything that can be done to block the continuance of what she keeps creating?
    Criminal justice : gives the criminal the justice!!!!

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