Bar backs legal aid rule shift
Because of widespread opposition, the Hawaii State Bar Association plans to recommend that the Hawaii Supreme Court modify a proposed rule defining the unauthorized practice of law.
The high court received objections to the proposal by accountants, insurance companies, real estate agents, paralegals and others concerned that the rule was so broad that it would infringe on their activities serving clients.
Jeffrey Sia, president of the bar association, said in an interview Friday that the association's intent on pushing for a definition was to protect the public from unlicensed attorneys practicing law.
"It's never been our intent or goal to infringe on lawful activities that professional groups and others are entitled to do," he said.
The proposal would amend the rules of the court and define the "practice of law" as providing "legal advice or legal assistance to another person." It would include "selecting, drafting, or completing documents that affect the legal rights of another person."
The new rule would help define a state criminal law that prohibits the unauthorized practice of law. Violations are punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
The high court asked for public comment on the proposal by Jan. 25. It received a wide range of opposition from insurance companies, accountants and others who feared it would add to their cost of business. Others suggested the lawyers wanted to protect a monopoly on legal services. Betty Marais, a nonlawyer, said she feared the proposal would shut down her Legal-Ez business, which helps people who want to represent themselves to fill out legal forms.
Because of the opposition, the bar association asked for more time to review the criticism. The organization now has until May 30 to submit its comments.
Marsha Kitagawa, Judiciary spokeswoman, said it is not unusual for the high court to extend the time for the bar association to respond to proposed rules and has done it several times in the past.
Sia said he understands the fears of professional groups and others over the language of the proposed rule and how they might reasonably conclude that the proposal was overly broad.
"We want to tweak the rule to better ensure that they're protected and feel protected," he said.
He said the bar association will consider modifying the basic definition of the "practice of law." In addition, amending the rule's exceptions to the prohibition of unauthorized practice of law also will be considered, Sia said.
Sia said the bar association also wants to provide the groups a chance to review the organization's recommendations before they are submitted.
The high court wanted public comment to implement a rule by July 1, but could push that date back if it wants more feedback on the bar association's modifications.