Consumer Law

State high court asked: Can use of forms be unauthorized practice?

The Legal Profession Blog noted an interesting case argued in Ohio this week that poses the question: Is the use of forms unauthorized practice of law?

On Wednesday, the Ohio Board on the Unauthorized Practice of Law recommended that the state supreme court find that Thomas Jones, Jr., a nonlawyer in Cleveland, has engaged in the unauthorized practice of law because he helped prepare deeds for two Cleveland homeowners.

The board also urged the court to order Jones not to practice as a nonlawyer and to charge him a $10,000 civil penalty. Citing an oral argument preview of the case, Legal Profession Blog notes that in the UPL board’s report, it’s alleged that Jones and his business partner, disbarred Ohio attorney Michael Troy Watson, were purchasing properties in foreclosure and preparing quitclaim deeds for owners to transfer the properties to them.

The board furthers asserts that legal documents—including deeds, contracts, and trusts—may not be prepared by a nonlawyer for the benefit of another.

Jones represented himself at oral arguments Wednesday, describing himself as a business man and contractor who is buying properties and saving them from demolition. Jones argued he didn’t do anything wrong, that he simply got deed documents off the Internet and filled them out. When asked by the court how he got the legal description, Jones said he copied the legal description of the deed provided by the county.

During oral arguments, after the judges told Jones that he can’t prepare deeds for others, only for himself, Jones said that if he’d known that what he was doing was improper, he wouldn’t have continued preparing the deeds.

In response to Jones, the UPL board’s lawyer cited Jones’ lack of cooperation as a reason for requesting the $10,000 civil penalty.

See the full oral argument here.

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