Unauthorized Practice of Law in PA

William Hoffmeyer Discusses Unauthorized Practice of Law in Legal Intelligencer

William F. Hoffmeyer, EsquireUnauthorized practice of law is a serious problem in Pennsylvania. William Hoffmeyer is considered one of the leaders in the subject, as can be seen by his discussion of the subject with Lizzy McLellan of the Legal Intelligencer.  In fact, Mr. Hoffmeyer is co-chair of the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee. In 1997, he received the prestigious Pennsylvania Bar Medal for his work in preventing the unauthorized practice of law.

Recently, Ms. McLellan spoke to Mr. Hoffmeyer about issues concerning Avvo, Rocket Lawyer and LegalZoom and the future of these organizations here in Pennsylvania. In 2010, the UPL Committee reviewed LegalZoom, a company people use to obtain various legal forms, and found that it was engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. The Committee plans on revisiting the issue soon.

Why Unauthorized Practice of Law Matters to You

Attorneys in Pennsylvania are required to attend an American Bar Association approved law school, pass a character and fitness background check, pass a difficult bar exam, and also pass an ethics test. In addition, once approved to practice law, we attorneys are required to take an oath. That oath requires us to follow the law and our ethics rules.

Protecting Our Clients

The reason for these stringent requirements is to protect members of the public. To make certain that when you retain counsel to represent you, whether it be in a divorce or drafting a will, those attorneys are qualified to assist you. Practicing law is not just about being able to read a statute and fill in forms. Rather, it is about knowing what questions to ask you, understanding your unique and personal needs, and making sure that our representation addresses your specific requirements and meets your needs. It is our training and experience, as attorneys, that allow us to make certain to represent you properly.

Those without the proper training and experience do not have the background, education, or knowledge to provide you the kind of representation that assures you that your legal needs are being met.

Consider a Will

As we have written before, everybody needs a will. It may seem easier and cheaper to go to an organization where you just fill out a form online. The problem with such wills, however, is that no form can ask you the kind of questions a lawyer can. A form cannot ask you whether you have family members who are likely to challenge your will. Or if there are unique considerations in your family that require you to take care in setting up specialized trusts. Attorneys are called counselors at law for a reason. We maintain a human element, in combination with our training and experience, that enables us to properly assist our clients.

Make Sure You Choose a Licensed Attorney

Whenever you seek to retain counsel, make certain you are hiring an actual attorney. Check on the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board’s website. Also, look for any history of public discipline. You can find this information on the PDB’s site. Keep in mind that unauthorized practice of law is a crime in Pennsylvania. But more importantly for you, someone who is not properly trained and does not have the right experience, is not going to be able to provide you with the kind of representation that you need.

© Copyright by Hoffmeyer & Semmelman LLP, August 2017

Social Media Impacts Every Legal Area

Social Media and the Law

What you post on social media can make a huge difference in your cases, both personally and privately.

Facebook has over 1.86 billion monthly active users. By 2018, 169.2 million of those users will be from the United States. LinkedIn has 467 million users, 128 million from the United States. This includes representatives of all Fortune 500 companies. Snapchat reaches 41% of all 18-34 American users and YouTube serves up over 4 billion views of videos, every single day. The numbers are extraordinary and the type of data people share can have a substantial impact on their lives, including their interactions with the legal system. There is no area of law not impacted by social media use. Three areas where we frequently see social media use implications for our clients are: Family, employment, and business.

Family Law

Practically from day one, social media began to have an impact on family law cases, especially divorce, support, and custody. While people may “unfriend” their soon to be ex-spouses, they often do not unfriend mutual friends. In addition, children who are at least 13 years of age are often on Facebook and other sites. They, of course, will be friends with both parents. Courts frequently admit evidence involving conduct which is contrary to the claims of the parties. Images of parents drinking and/or partying can have an impact on child custody, especially if the children are in the pictures. Discussions about money can greatly impact alimony and support. Posts that may not be relevant to the case but anger ex-spouses can lead to problems with negotiations. Judges are swayed by social media content. It is important to know what areas to avoid when you are in the middle of a family law case.

Employment Law

It is easy to understand why an employer might terminate an employee who writes something negative about their company on social media. However, while it is often permissible to do so, there are times when firing an employer based on a post will violate the law and leave a company open to an expensive claim. It is important to avoid a knee jerk reaction and to consult with a lawyer about whether the content is protected, prior to making a termination decision. In addition, if one employee engages in inappropriate behavior towards another online, you may have an obligation to act. Having an appropriate social media policy can go a long way to spelling out what employees may and may not post related to your business. These social media policies must be written correctly. Over the years, many policies have been thrown out for being overbroad. If you don’t have a policy it may be time to get one. If you do, be certain to review it to make certain it is acceptable under current law.

Business Law

Different businesses have different privacy requirements and laws they must follow. Medical staff posting images of patients or identifiable information leave medical facilities open to HIPAA fines and privacy lawsuits. Publicly held companies can have problems if they share inappropriate content deemed to be seeking to impact stock prices. Failing to respond to angry customers may not lead to legal problems, but they can certainly lead to public relations disasters. Knowing what your business may and may not post, along with having an appropriate social media policy, is a critical part of protecting your business from both legal and PR nightmares.

Conclusion

The key thing to remember is that social media can impact both your private and business life. Making certain that you understand what you should and should not post online is key for protecting yourself and your business. If you have questions about how social media can impact you or your business, contact Hoffmeyer & Semmelman to learn more.

 

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