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In this hypothetical scenario lets say there was a law firm that has only one lawyer to file all paper work, make all court room appearances to represent the firm. All of his work, however preparing for cases and communicating with individuals is done by hundreds of legal experts who have not passed the bar. The law firm does not hide this fact.

Is this illegal? Is this done in practice on a smaller scale? Could one lawyer be actively involved in several different legal cases if legal experts who have not passed the bar are doing all the grunt work? What are the limitations of what a legal expert who has not passed the bar can do?

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    So like a paralegal?
    – amon
    Nov 9 at 18:10
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    Your question reminds me of this rather fanciful work of fiction.
    – Kevin
    Nov 10 at 2:44
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    Which jurisdiction are we talking about here? USA?
    – SQB
    Nov 11 at 8:26
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    Isn't this the typical structure of all those law firms that advertise on TV saying how if you're in a wreck you need a check, or how dangerous 18 wheelers are, and that they don't charge you a dime unless they recover you money? They even have a local number, but then you find out they have offices all over the state, and even in other states. You will never speak with the attorney from the commercials or billboards, they are basically just a face for advertising.
    – Glen Yates
    Nov 12 at 21:04
41

A Lawyer may hire paralegals, clerks, secretaries, and other assistants. The lawyer may hire as many as s/he pleases, and assign them whatever tasks s/he chooses.

However, some kinds of documents may need to be signed by the lawyer (which ones will depend on the jurisdiction, in the US on the state). During the so-called "robo-signing scandal" it was held that, in some US states at least, a lawyer who signs certain kinds of documents without reviewing them has failed to perform the duties imposed on the lawyer by the law, and the documents may be invalid. Large numbers of mortgage foreclosure cases were dismissed when it became known that the lawyer signing relevant documents had not in fact reviewed them (or in some cases had not even signed them, but had permitted a non-lawyer to sign the lawyer's name).

In addition, some functions in some jurisdictions must be performed by an actual lawyer. For example, paralegals and other non-lawyers cannot validly give legal advice. Only a lawyer can represent a client in court. And so on.

I question whether one lawyer could in most kinds of practice keep up with the work of "hundreds" of non-lawyers, but that would depend on the kind of work done by the firm. In the US, some law firms are essentially collection agencies. There a single lawyer with many many assistants suffices, I understand, and that structure is not uncommon in the US.

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    @the1.9gpaProgrammer I do not use "singular they" under any circumstance whatsoever. I am fine with others who choose to use it in ther writing. Nov 12 at 6:21
  • Really? Because that's virtually impossible. Structures like, "I don't get upset at someone just because they make a different choice" or "If someone found my wallet on the street, I'd hope they would try to get it back to me" are virtually impossible to consistently avoid. (And doing so serves no purpose whatsoever.) Nov 12 at 12:11
  • @David Yes really. I would write: "I don't get upset at someone just because he or she made a different choice" or "If someone found my wallet on the street, I'd hope that person would try to get it back to me". Often one can use "one". I wish people had agreed on a new, non-gendered singular pronoun. I favored "xi", possessive "xir", but I would have accepted any of the forms proposed. however, none achieved consensus. As to the point, it avoids ambiguity, but more importantly, in spite of its long history, singular they simply feels wrong to me, & I will not have it over my signature. Nov 12 at 15:33
  • @DavidSiegel good job your feelings are the more important part of the decision-making here, given that using singular "they" in place of the neopronoun "s/he" where it is used in this answer would introduce no ambiguity whatsoever!
    – Will
    Nov 12 at 17:41
  • 1) I always get a bit queasy when I read in the news that someone "pleaded" guilty. 2)If you're in charge, you can get to be secretary. Treasury Secretary of the United States. Clearly more congresscritters (There's a nice gender-neutral term for you!) ought to read The Intercept! theintercept.com/2017/01/25/… Nov 13 at 19:49
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Some kinds of practices are bottom heavy, with lots of administrative and paralegal staff relative to attorney employees.

Examples including consumer side bankruptcy firms that represent debtors, foreclosure and collections law firms, and firms specializing in routine probate administration cases. On the transactional side, administering intellectual property paperwork compliance or business compliance with getting transactions documented is often bottom heavy. Some document intensive class-action and big commercial cases can be bottom heavy with lots of document organization involved.

The main issue when it comes to unauthorized practice of law would be meeting with clients in order to give clients legal advice. Non-lawyers aren't supposed to do that. They can help gather data, pass on messages, calendar deadlines, prepare rough drafts of legal documents under the supervision of a lawyer, and keep files organized, but non-lawyers cannot provide legal advice, negotiate on behalf of a client, sign off on court filings, appear in court, take depositions, or share in firm profits. These restrictions limit the usefulness of high levels of legal expertise in paralegals and other staff members.

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    "non-lawyers cannot provide legal advice, negotiate on behalf of a client, sign off on court filings, appear in court, take depositions, or share in firm profits" One of these things is not like the others...
    – nick012000
    Nov 10 at 9:49
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    Why can't partners choose to pay their employees a % of the profits? Nov 10 at 21:29
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    It's a common legal ethics rule in the US that lawyers can't share legal fees with nonlawyers. But (and you'd need to check your state's rules for all the details of exactly what you can and can't do) there's generally some kind of exception that allows including nonlawyer employees in a profit sharing plan. The rules usually require they share in the firm's profits as a whole, not the proceeds from specific cases. Nov 10 at 22:37
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    @ZachLipton Profit sharing plan in the context of the ethical rules basically means that matching contributions to the specific kind of tax regulated retirement plans called profit sharing plans are allowed, not that firm wide profit distributions payable immediately to staff are not generally allowed.
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 10 at 22:52

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