NAACP and faculty seek to support nonprofit in lawsuit against free legal advice program


REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

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  • The groups filed proposed briefs in support of Upsolve’s injunction bid
  • The objective of the program is to increase access to the courts

(Reuters) – Civil rights groups and law professors have submitted briefs backing the nonprofit Upsolve Inc’s bid to train non-lawyers to offer free legal advice to those facing lawsuits for debt collection without violating New York rules on the practice of law.

Groups including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed submissions in Manhattan federal court this week that support Upsolve and a South Bronx pastor, who sued the attorney general’s office. of New York, Letitia James, in January.

The case comes as access to justice advocates in several US states work to give professionals who are not lawyers more leeway to provide legal advice in limited contexts.

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Upsolve argued that applying state rules prohibiting unauthorized practice of the law to its planned Access to Justice Program would violate its rights under the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The project would equip people to give free, “one-on-one” legal advice to low-income New Yorkers on responding to debt collection actions, according to the complaint.

Upsolve said the threat of lawsuits under the rules, which prevent people who aren’t lawyers from offering legal advice, is preventing it from starting the program. The organization was looking for a preliminary injunction to clear the way.

The National Center for Access to Justice, a nonprofit organization at Fordham University Law School, and a group of 25 law professors across the country who work on access to justice and issues of regulation, are among the others who submitted proposed briefs this week.

Matthew Lawson of the New York Attorney General’s Office, which is representing the office in the case, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday on the brief.

The NAACP said in its brief the “outcome of this case will have profound civil rights implications for NAACP members and for the NAACP’s institutional interest in redressing injustice and inequality.”

The group said the “unnecessarily broad” unauthorized practice rules “significantly limit the scope of assistance” the NAACP can offer debt collection defendants.

Rebecca Sandefur, a professor at Arizona State University who studies access to civil justice issues, said in her own brief that research shows the “safety and effectiveness” of legal solutions provided by non-lawyers in certain situations.

U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty, who is overseeing the case, also asked the parties on Wednesday for suggestions of others who might intervene.

The case is Upsolve Inc et al v. James, US District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 1:22-CV-00627.

For Upsolve: Zack Tripp of Weil, Gotshal & Manges

For James: Matthew Lawson of the New York Attorney General’s Office

For NAACP and NAACP New York State: Daniel Rubens of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe

For the NCAJ: David Udell of the National Center for Access to Justice

For law professors: Richard St. John of Munger, Tolles & Olson

For Rebecca Sandefur: Peter Karanjia of DLA Piper

Read more:

Non-profit organization sues NY AG over rules of practice in attempt to provide free legal advice

California plan to license non-lawyers sparks strong backlash

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