The Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law received a complaint alleging that a nonlawyer attempted to represent a grievant in an attorney discipline matter. The nonlawyer argued that his conduct was permitted because the grievant had executed a power of attorney authorizing him to act as the grievant’s agent. The Committee hereby issues this Opinion to clarify that a nonlawyer holding a power of attorney is not authorized to act as a lawyer licensed in the State of New Jersey.
A power of attorney cannot authorize an agent to perform acts that would be considered the practice of law.
Powers of attorney often include provisions empowering the agent to “pursue claims and litigation.” This provision permits the agent to act on behalf of the principal as the client in a lawsuit. An attorney-in-fact (the holder of a power of attorney) may make decisions concerning litigation for the principal, such as deciding to settle a case, but a nonlawyer attorney-in-fact may not act as lawyer to implement those decisions. See 3 C.J.S. Agency, Paragraph 217, page 499 (2008). Nor may an agent appear on behalf of a principal in court as a pro se party; only the real party in interest – the principal, not a nonlawyer agent –is permitted to appear in court pro se. R. 1:21-1(a).
Providing legal advice and representing parties in court or in quasi-judicial forumssuch as attorney discipline proceedings or administrative agency hearingsis the practice of law. Stack v. P.G. Garage, Inc., 7 N.J. 118, 120-21 (1951); Slimm v. Yates, 236 N.J. Super. 558, 561 (Ch. Div. 1989); Tumulty v. Rosenblum, 134 N.J.L. 514, 517-18 (Sup. Ct. 1946); Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law Opinion 21, 100 N.J.L.J. 1118 (1977). “The practice of law in New Jersey is not limited to litigation. . . . One is engaged in the practice of law whenever legal knowledge, training, skill, and ability are required.” In re Jackman, supra, 165 N.J. at 586.
It is not in the public interest to permit the practice of law by nonlawyers who have been appointed agent of a principal pursuant to a power of attorney. Such conduct is the unauthorized practice of law.
In sum, a nonlawyer holding a power of attorney is not authorized to act as a lawyer licensed in the State of New Jersey, cannot provide legal services or advice, and cannot represent the principal in any judicial or quasi-judicial forum. A nonlawyer who acts in this manner engages in the unauthorized practice of law.
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