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Recently, I've had to secure durable power of attorney (POA) for a friend of mine with a neurodegenerative disease to help him with a bunch of different matters.

We've been working our way through the pile of issues and it had occurred to me that on several issues, another party could sue my friend for civil damages. Granted, I'm not sure why they would, it'd be like trying to get blood from a stone, but presuming they did my friend is hardly able to represent himself. In that situation, would I be allowed to represent him in court even though I am not a lawyer?

Does the answer change in the event that the matter were criminal and not civil?

I've identified this similar question, but my jurisdiction is different furthermore, I'm unclear how the POA functions in this instance. Said POA was provided to us by a social worker associated with my friend's case, but a copy is freely available through this link: https://powerofattorney.com/new-jersey/durable-power-attorney-jersey-form-adobe-pdf/

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  • Possibly related: law.stackexchange.com/questions/9410/…
    – Rick
    Jun 9, 2021 at 20:40
  • FYI many states allow people who are not lawyers but who are agents under a POA, fiduciaries (e.g. executors or guardians), or are corporate officers, to represent an entity or another person (in the context of that particular relationship only) in small claims court (where lawyers often aren't permitted to participate at all) and in administrative hearings (e.g. unemployment claim hearings). I don't know if New Jersey does so.
    – ohwilleke
    Jun 9, 2021 at 21:22
  • Also, a POA agent can hire a lawyer for the principal granting to POA, and can be the point of contact and decision maker for the principal granting the POA with that lawyer. As to the title question, there are also some forums where law students by special permission, or accountants, or patent agents, none of whom are lawyers, can represent people in a lawyer-like way, despite not being admitted to the general practice of law.
    – ohwilleke
    Jun 9, 2021 at 21:28

1 Answer 1

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A POA (power of attorney) does not allow one to represent someone in court. The name is confusing, it dates from a period when "attorney" meant one who acted for another, not just in court. That hasn't been a current meaning for hundreds of years except in this one expression. A POA might now be better called a "power of agency" but the inertia of terminology applies.

According to Section Section 2C:21-22 of the NJ code:

  1. a. A person is guilty of a crime of the fourth degree if the person knowingly engages in the unauthorized practice of law.

b. A person is guilty of a crime of the third degree if the person knowingly engages in the unauthorized practice of law and:

(1) Creates or reinforces, by any means, a false impression that the person is licensed to engage in the practice of law. As used in this paragraph, "by any means" includes but is not limited to using or advertising the title of lawyer or attorney-at-law, or equivalent terms, in the English language or any other language, which mean or imply that the person is licensed as an attorney-at-law in the State of New Jersey or in any other jurisdiction of the United States; or

(2) Derives a benefit; or

(3) In fact causes injury to another.

c. For the purposes of this section, the phrase "in fact" indicates strict liability. Accoding to the NJ courts:

A person is considered to be practicing law when that person's conduct whenever and wherever it takes place is of such a nature that legal knowledge, training, skill and ability are required. This definition of the practice of law is not limited to the conduct of cases in court. (Source: www.njcourts.gov › assets › criminalcharges › unprlaw)

This rule is, if anything, more strictly enforced in criminal cases than in civil cases.

In some states non-lawyers may assist a party in small-claims courts, I believe, but not in NJ.

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  • "Attorney" still means that although it is a secondary meaning. The word "lawyer" for members of that profession emphasizes what lawyers know. The word "attorney" emphasizes one of the main but not exclusive things that lawyers do which is act as agents of their clients in legal matters. The word "counselor" for lawyers emphasizes another thing that lawyers do which is give advise to their clients about legal matters.
    – ohwilleke
    Jun 9, 2021 at 21:11
  • Attorney meaning lawyer is a North American definition only. In all other English’s attorney and lawyer are NOT synonymous and the use in “Power of Attorney” is basically the only one.
    – Dale M
    Jun 9, 2021 at 22:08
  • Most (all?) Commonwealth countries and a smattering of others also have an Attorney General to advise their government
    – Rick
    Jun 9, 2021 at 22:25

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