In today’s per curiam opinion, the court noted that an individual who negotiates legal claims for another person and provides legal advice – even without charge and even when stating that he is not an attorney – is practicing law.
While a non-attorney who sends a character-reference letter for someone to a judge is not engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, the court stated that when a letter shifts to advocating specific legal positions for that person, the unauthorized practice of law occurs.
“[D]espite the laudable desire to seek reform in the criminal system, such a desire cannot be realized by legally advising and advocating on behalf of a criminal defendant without violating our prohibition against the unauthorized practice of law,” the opinion stated.
“Zubaidah’s actions extended beyond the permissible conduct of endorsing a person’s character, advocating a social issue generally, advancing personal interests, or providing nonlegal advice to a family member. Despite Zubaidah’s good intentions and intermittent disclaimers, his conduct shows a pattern of advocating legal positions on behalf of defendants and providing legal advice to those defendants, leading to serious consequences for the STAND clients who trusted him.”
The court pointed out that Zubaidah held himself out as “an advocate with legal expertise,” his agreements implied that he had specialized knowledge of the legal system, and his letters to judges “cited case law, raised legal issues, and asked for legal results.”
Judges aren't legislators, mayors, or council members. In fact, the judiciary is a very unique and distinctive branch of government, significantly different than the executive and legislative branches. As a result, a non-lawyer simply cannot send a letter or file a document advocating that a judge take a certain position on a legal issue that is before them. Mr. Zubaidah would have been better off advocating his positions in the media, or in the Ohio General Assembly, or directly to the public. Instead, he directly advised defendants on legal matters, to their great detriment, and filed incorrect and flawed arguments with the courts. For more information, please click here.