Legal Ethics

Hawaii Ponders Controversial 'Law Practice' Rule

The Hawaii State Bar Association is asking the state’s supreme court to revise an ethical rule against the unauthorized practice of law, clarifying that nonlawyers can’t select, draft or complete documents that affect individuals’ legal rights.

However, the proposed rule change is controversial, and the Honolulu Star Bulletin has editorialized against it. “The American Bar Association rejected such a ‘model’ rule after a protest from the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission. Hawaii’s high court should do the same,” the newspaper recommends.

Accountants, paralegals and nonlawyers who work as insurance or real estate agents are among those who are likely to be affected by the controversial new rule, if it is adopted by the supreme court, reports the Star Bulletin in a news story yesterday. The court is accepting public comment on the proposal until Friday.

“This basically shuts me down,” says Betty Marais of Legal-Ez, a business in which the nonlawyer helps about 20 or 30 customers a month fill out civil documents.

However, bar association president Jeffrey Sia says the rule offers needed “quality control” to insure that the public doesn’t lose rights or have to pay more in the long run because of flawed legal advice from nonlawyers.

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