I'm wondering because here's what I am thinking. Religion is inextricably connected to whether something seems like the "right thing to do." Often, people struggle with what the "right thing to do" is, and they ask their religious advisors for advice. Suppose that a religious person advised that the right thing to do for "God's forgiveness" was to file *this legal document with *that court and argue *this point. Would that religious person have a defense against the UPL? Assume this advice was otherwise UPL and assume the religious advisor is a bona fide religious advisor. Has this type of situation ever come up before? Also, what are the liabilities of "holy" advice, outside of just the UPL?

2 Answers 2


Assume this advice was otherwise UPL and assume the religious advisor is a bona fide religious advisor.

As far as I'm aware, the only special treatment given to "bona fide religious advisors" under the law is that certain conversations may be privileged; that is, the parties to some conversations involving "bona fide religions advisors" can not be compelled to testify to the content of those conversations.

Provided "this advice was otherwise UPL", the "bona fide religious advisor" has engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. If there is evidence of such outside of privileged conversations that cannot be admitted into evidence, then it should prove straightforward to successfully prosecute the case.


"Unauthorized practice of law" is not as broad as you appear to assume. If you falsely claim to be a licensed attorney, or if you engage in activities reserved for licensed attorneys (representing a client in court as their attorney, for example), then you would be in trouble. You have a First Amendment right to express your opinion on what the right thing to do is, and that is not limited to opinions motivated by religion.

  • I don't know. See here. (americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/migrated/cpr/model-def/…) Even where " 'trial work is not involved but the preparation of legal documents, their interpretation, the giving of legal advice, or the application of legal principles to problems of any complexity, is involved, these activities are still the practice of law.'
    – Mr. A
    Jun 16, 2016 at 16:27
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    Everything I've read tells me it is that broad. So perhaps you should show me a link where advice "of a legal nature" is considered to be exempt from UPL.
    – Mr. A
    Jun 16, 2016 at 16:44
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    @Mr.A Telling somebody that something is right from a moral, ethical, religious perspective does not imply that it is legally prudent.
    – user3851
    Jun 16, 2016 at 17:28
  • @Dawn - No, but the "UPL Nazis" will certainly start to get angry if too many people start to listen to a clergyman instead of a highly paid (I mean qualified) lawyer. Once that starts to happen, there will be all sorts of arguments about how what the clergyman was "really doing" was practicing law.
    – Mr. A
    Jun 16, 2016 at 17:40
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    @Mr.A, that's actually not how the law works. You would need to make a showing that such advice satisfies the definition of UPL. In the US, you have the right to do that which is not forbidden; it's not that you can do only that which is permitted. Notice in your link, Washington court rules GR24(10)(d):"Nothing in this rule shall affect the ability of a person or entity to provide information of a general nature about the law and legal procedures to members of the public". Focus on the relevance of the 1st Amendment.
    – user6726
    Jun 16, 2016 at 17:45

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