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Panel: Attorneys Look at How They Can Better Respond to the Unauthorized Practice of Law

Panel: Attorneys Look at How They Can Better Respond to the Unauthorized Practice of Law

By Daniel Buchanan

Across America, notario fraud is a common practice. The ABA Midyear Meeting panel “The Unauthorized Practice of Law: Responses from the Bar” on Friday examined how attorneys can better respond to these abuses in their communities.

Notarios are individuals who pose as attorneys, taking advantage of the fact that in Latin America the term “notario” refers to a skilled attorney rather than a notary public, said Michelle Saenz-Rodriguez, chair, Texas American Immigration Lawyers Association. The term gives immigrants a “sense of trust when they come to America,” she said. “People are intimidated by lawyers,” she said. “There is a cultural perception that we’re corrupt.”

Most recently, some states are launching radio advertisements on Spanish-language stations warning listeners of notarios. Brooke Schafer, senior trial counsel, State Bar of California, said his state will be running ads, and ads are already running in Colorado, according to James Coyle, chief deputy regulation counsel, Colorado Supreme Court.

James Golder, assistant regional director, Federal Trade Commission-Southwest Region, said he is part of a law-enforcement working group that meets quarterly and shares ideas and troubleshoots problems regarding the unauthorized practice of law (UPL).

All panelists said they are expecting a big increase in cases of UPL if comprehensive immigration reforms pass.

The interactive panel featured discussion from audience members, who shared their ideas on how to curb the problem with notarios. One suggested a national reporting system. Another suggested building a trusted network of pro bono attorneys to force out notarios.

In the meantime, attorneys can continue to educate themselves. Liz Sweet of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Immigration announced the Standing Committee on Client Protection’s first-ever “UPL School” August 16-17 at the University of Denver’s Sturm Law School. The UPL School will, for the first time, offer a central forum for volunteer members of state and local bar UPL committees and commissions and those charged with the prevention and prosecution of UPL violations to discuss current UPL challenges. Registration will open March 1.

This panel was sponsored by the Commission on Immigration and co-sponsored by several other ABA entities including the Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights & Responsibilities, the Section of Antitrust Law Private Advertising Litigation Committee and the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.

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